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Stan Becton | | February 21, 2023

Texas Southern vs. North Carolina Central: The first time HBCU programs met in March Madness

North Carolina Central Eagles vs. Texas Southern Tigers: Game Highlights

Only one time in DI men's basketball history has an NCAA tournament game featured two HBCU programs battling head-to-head. The historic matchup occurred in 2018 when Texas Southern faced North Carolina Central in the First Four. Let's take a look back at the groundbreaking game in March Madness and HBCU history. 

How they got there

Texas Southern and North Carolina Central both received No. 16 seeds in the 2018 NCAA tournament after each team won its second straight conference championship in the SWAC and MEAC.

Texas Southern went on a run to close the season after starting the season 0-13, winning four consecutive games to close the regular season before winning the SWAC title as the No. 3 seed. The Tigers defeated No. 1 seed Arkansas-Pine Bluff for the SWAC Championship 84-69 to enter the NCAA tournament with a 15-19 (12-6) record. 

North Carolina Central won the MEAC title as the No. 6 seed, defeating No. 1 seed Hampton 71-63. The Eagles entered the NCAA tournament with a 19-15 (9-7) record. 

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The stage is set

Selection Sunday sent Texas Southern and North Carolina Central to the UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, for a historic 6:40 p.m. game in the First Four. As historical as the matchup was, more history would occur when the teams took the court as either Texas Southern or North Carolina Central would win its first-ever tournament game.

Both teams had tournament experience, with Texas Southern and North Carolina Central making their fourth and third appearance in the last five seasons, respectively.

The lineups

Here were the starting lineups for each team entering the First Four matchup:

Texas Southern NC Central
Damontrae Jefferson Raasean Davis
Donte Clark Jordan Perkins
Derrick Bruce Zacarry Douglas
Cainan McClelland Reggie Gardner Jr.
Marquis Salmon John Guera

Here were the statistical leaders from each team:

  • Leading scorers
    • Texas Southern: Demontrae "Trae" Jefferson (23.4 ppg)  39.4 percent from the perimeter., Donte Clark (18.6 ppg), Derrick Bruce (13.9 ppg)
    • North Carolina Central: Raasean Davis (15.0 ppg), Pablo Rivas (11.8 ppg), Reggie Gardner Jr. (11.2 ppg)
  • Leading rebounder
    • Texas Southern: Trayvon Reed (8.8 rpg)
    • North Carolina Central: Raasean Davis (8.0 rpg)
  • Leader in assists
    • Texas Southern: Trae Jefferson (4.5 apg)
    • North Carolina Central: Jordan Perkins (5.4 apg)

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The first half

The first-ever NCAA tournament HBCU head-to-head battle started competitively, with the game tied 10-10 with 11:40 to play. North Carolina Central's Raasean Davis scored six of the first 10 Eagle points. Davis would finish the first half with 16 points, but that wouldn't be enough for the Eagles to take the lead.

Why? Because Texas Southern went on a 13-4 run from the 9:55-5:07 marks of the first half. Dynamic 5-7 guard Trae Jefferson — the shortest player in the 2018 NCAA tournament — scored five points during the run as the Tigers built a 27-16 lead. Jefferson scored 17 points by the end of the first half, joining Texas Southern's 1000-point club at 1,001 points. Jefferson's scoring flurry led the Tigers to a 36-26 lead at halftime.

The second half

The second half was a defensive struggle. Texas Southern only shot 30 percent (10-33) from the field after halftime. Yet, the Tigers countered their offensive woes with defensive prowess by limiting North Carolina Central to just 24 percent shooting from the field (8-34) in the second half. The Tigers held the Eagles scoreless from the 9:07-2:22 marks of the second half, going on an eight-point run to gain a 20-plus-point advantage.

Texas Southern's defense shut down a North Carolina Central offense that averaged 72 points per game by forcing the Eagles to shoot 0-14 from three-point range. The defensive effort led Texas Southern to a 64-46 win.

In the win, Jefferson finished with 25 points and eight rebounds while leading the Tigers in scoring, rebounds, assists (3), and steals (3). Texas Southern won its first-ever NCAA tournament game in eight appearances, kicking off a dynastic HBCU basketball run.

Jefferson puts up 25 in first tournament win

What they said

Trae Jefferson after leading his team to its first March Madness win: "It was for the university. We actually made history today for the university, and we kind of knew that coming into this game."

Texas Southern coach Mike Davis on his team facing adversity throughout the year: "You can't train your brain to stay focused unless you go through some tough times. That's why I designed my schedule the way I designed it, for us to get better and for us to be tough as a team. So if you noticed, nobody on this team celebrated. Nobody jumped up and down, high-fiving. We did the same thing in our conference tournament."

North Carolina Central coach Levelle Moton on his team after the loss: "We didn't give our best shot. We knew our freshmen would have to play like seniors and our walk-on would have to play like a scholarship junior. We fell short tonight. We were outplayed, out-coached, out-toughed. And they've been here before."

Watch the game again

Below, you can watch the 2018 First Four highlights one more time.

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