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North Carolina’s size proved too much for Texas Southern

SWAC team was overwhelmed by No. 1 seed

GREENVILLE, S.C. — A sign of the challenges Texas Southern faced in its opening round NCAA tournament game against North Carolina came during pregame introductions when the Tigers’ diminutive guard Demontrae Jefferson — generously listed at 5-feet-7 — was met at center court by Kennedy Meeks from North Carolina.

Most occasions, Meeks, who’s 6-feet-10, is greeted by a player closer to his size. That explains why he laughed as he reached down and hugged Jefferson, who momentarily disappeared during the embrace.

Friday’s game matched HBCU vs. ACC.

No. 16 seed vs. No. 1 seed.

Tight budget vs. big spenders.

So the final score — North Carolina, 103, Texas Southern, 64 — wasn’t a big surprise.

But it was stunning for the Tigers, who sat in their locker stalls still in their uniforms well after the game ended.

TSU Tigers Ty Bynum, Dulani Robinson and Lamont Walker listen to the coaching staff in the locker room. The TSU Tigers played the UNC Tarheels in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Tournament.

Michael Starghill, Jr. for The Undefeated

“Size was the difference, they just overwhelmed us,” said Texas Southern guard Zach Lofton, who scored nine points, well below his 16.8 average this season. “But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have a great ride.

“We won our conference tournament, and we got to play the team that might go on to win the national championship,” Lofton said. “Nobody hangs their head too low around here. We’re all family.”

Many wanted to see how the fast-paced game played by Jefferson, known for his YouTube videos, would translate on the big stage against one of the nation’s best teams. At times he was matched against North Carolina’s Seventh Woods, who was once declared the best high school freshman in the country in a viral video that’s been viewed more than 14 million times.

Jefferson finished with 13 points in a team-high 34 minutes. But he hit just one of seven 3-pointers and at times had difficulty navigating through the Tar Heels defense. (Woods scored two points for the Tar Heels in 15 minutes.)

Check our gallery to see the TSU’s Day at the “Dance” while they were preparing for UNC

“It was a great experience to play against those guys and to see how Roy [Williams of North Carolina] coaches and how hard his players compete,” Jefferson said. “For me, I just have to watch some film and see how these guys sped me up and made me uncomfortable. I’ll try to use what I learned from this game next season.”

Credit junior guard Kevin Scott for keeping the game close for the first five minutes as he hit two 3-pointers, giving Texas Southern a 10-8 lead. Unfortunately that would be the last lead of the game for the Tigers, although Scott did finish with a team-high 19 points.

TSU Tiger Demontrae Jefferson drives to the basket during the game. The TSU Tigers played the UNC Tarheels in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Tournament.

Michael Starghill, Jr. for The Undefeated

“My shot was falling early, but it’s tough when you look up at the scoreboard and you’re still down 30,” Scott said. “While we enjoy being here, we can’t be complacent with just winning a conference championship. We have to find a way to improve, so we can do a better job representing HBCUs.”

Texas Southern center Marvin Jones scored six points in what was the last game of his career. Having come to the Southwestern Athletic Conference school from Kent State, Jones appreciates the obstacles that Texas Southern and other historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have to overcome to reach the NCAA tournament.

“At a PWI [predominantly white institution], at times you’ll have a chef preparing meals for the team, and you’re not going to find that at an HBCU,” Jones said. “From facilities to locker rooms to the facilities with the trainers, it’s just not the same.

“There’s a lot of differences behind the scenes that people don’t see,” Jones added. “So it’s truly a blessing that we’re able to get to this stage.”

Other HBCUs have performed well as No. 15 seeds. Texas Southern’s NCAA appearance on Friday came 20 years after No. 15 Coppin State beat No. 2 South Carolina in the opening round in 1997, becoming the first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team to win an NCAA tournament game.

Since then, No. 15 Hampton’s win over Iowa State in 2001 and No. 15 Norfolk State victory over Missouri in 2012 have given HBCUs three of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history.

“To get to that level we’re going to have to get a higher seed, and to do that we have to find ways to earn respect,” Lofton said. “You’re going to have to get players who are able to compete against these bigger schools. I think [coach] Mike Davis is moving us in that direction.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.