At the end, the Musketeers looked every bit like a No. 1 seed their first time around in the role at an NCAA Tournament.
J.P. Macura scored 18 of his career-high 29 points in the first half, and Xavier beat 16th-seeded Texas Southern 102-83 Friday night in their tournament opener in the West Region.
“It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing by any means, but we will play on Sunday,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said.
The Musketeers (29-5) will play either No. 9 seed Florida State or eighth-seeded Missouri on Sunday for a berth in the Sweet 16.
Trevon Bluiett added 26 points, and Kerem Kanter tied his career-high with 24 for the Big East’s regular season champs.
With celebrity fan Bill Murray watching , Macura helped Xavier respond when falling behind 20-13 within the first five minutes. Macura scored 15 points to key a 21-2 run that put the Musketeers ahead for good. Macura’s fourth 3 capped the run with 7:12 left and Xavier securely ahead 34-22.
Texas Southern (16-20) came in having won the first NCAA Tournament game in program history, a First Four win over North Carolina Central in Dayton on Wednesday night. The Tigers and confident sophomore guard Damontrae Jefferson wanted much more history with a win in the first round that would have made them the first 16 seed to knock off a No. 1.
“They made some shots,” Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said of Xavier. “My team fought all the way through. The effort they gave tonight in that game against this team was one that I’m proud of.”
Jefferson and the Tigers simply couldn’t match Xavier’s shooting. Jefferson did steal the ball and score on a layup just before the first-half buzzer, adding a free throw for good measure. That was as close as Texas Southern would get as Xavier led 49-37 at halftime.
Xavier never pushed its lead past 24 as the Tigers, especially Jefferson — who played every minute of the game — kept fighting. The pesky guard kept scrapping for balls with four steals, even picking up a technical with 12:45 left. It just wasn’t enough against Xavier, with its four starters back from last year’s Elite Eight team.
“This is a real big win especially because we’re a No. 1 seed and people are doubting us, thinking we’re going to be the first No. 1 seed out,” freshman forward Naji Marshall said. “So this is kind of a statement game.”
Jefferson scored 20 points to lead five Tigers in double figures. Derrick Bruce added 18, Robert Lewis had 14, Donte Clark scored 12 and Trayvon Reed had 10.
Texas Southern: The Tigers snapped an eight-game winning streak that got them into the tournament and past NC Central. … The Tigers had 10 steals in forcing Xavier into 13 turnovers and outscored the Musketeers 19-17 off those mistakes.
Xavier: The Musketeers couldn’t have shot much better, especially in the first half when they knocked down 9 of 15 outside the arc behind Macura and Bluiett. They finished 11 of 24, with five different Musketeers knocking down at least one 3.
Marshall was limited to 16 minutes and seen icing his back in the locker room. The starter finished with three points and six rebounds and three blocks. Mack said he doesn’t know whether Marshall, who dealt with a muscular issue in his back earlier in the season, will be available for the second round.
Texas Southern: Luckily for Davis, Jefferson is just a sophomore. Davis also has his Tigers travel like they’re in a Power Five league, not the Southwestern Athletic Conference, making them a draw for talent. Davis called this tournament run something to build on.
“We’re going to put together a team that is going to beat whatever seed it is we have to play,” Davis said.
Xavier: The Musketeers now are a win away from a spot in the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the past 11 tournaments.
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