Arkansas-Pine Bluff was up by five points over the favored Texas Southern men late in the second half on Wednesday, before the Tigers rose to rally for a 50-45 win in the Southwestern Athletic Conference basketball tournament at Garland, Texas.
After a series of near misses, and then a bad late-season stumble, they should have seen this one coming. Yet there was Texas Southern (19-11), shooting a ghastly 28.6 percent. It’s like there’s no wake-up call loud enough to wake them, until the game is almost lost.
Of course, TSU is talented enough to do that, often enough, and still win. So, there’s some bravado. “Texas Southern’s here to stay, and we ain’t going nowhere,” Texas Southern coach Tony Harvey was saying after that nail-biting first-round victory. “This is our league, and I’m setting the tone.”
Still, there are only so many magical endings in any genie’s bottle. The Tigers, talented though they may be, risk losing it all by playing inattentively. Going into today’s semifinal, TSU is just one win away from returning to the conference tournament title game for the second straight season — and two victories from reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003.
But that semifinal opponent is Alabama State. Yes, the same team that handed Texas Southern one of its two losses in SWAC play, 60-48 on Feb. 28 in Montgomery, Ala. The Hornets (15-17) advanced with a steely resolve against in-state SWAC rival Alabama A&M, winning 81-61 in Thursday’s quarterfinals with four players in double figures. Alabama State shot 60.9 percent in the second half, and out-rebounded the Bulldogs by a staggering 40-24.
Meanwhile, Grambling got 25 from Justin Patton in a 65-62 win over Mississippi Valley State. The Tigers (11-20) were particularly deadly from the charity stripe, draining 21-of-25 free throws in the second half to overcome a nine-point deficit. “We stuck together,” Grambling coach Bobby Washington said after the game, “that’s been our motto all year.”
Grambling now faces No. 2-seed Jackson State (17-14) in the semifinals today — a rematch of last year’s first-round game when GSU upset the top-ranked Mississippi Tigers, something that likely earned Washington a promotion up from interim. The No. 6-seeded Tigers are winners of eight of their last 10 games, including an upset over streaking Alabama State, who at the time of that stumble had claimed eight in a row.