The possibility of a program getting into the NCAA Tournament with a losing record is all too real, as the Texas Southern Tigers face off against the Delta Devils of Mississippi Valley State in the championship game of the 35th annual Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament tonight at the Special Events Center in Garland, Texas.
The Tigers, the second seed in the tourney, enters the championship round two games under .500 at 15-17 as the team shoots for a fifth title in this event and the first since 2003. Texas Southern began the road to this game by first defeating Alabama A&M in the quarterfinals on Wednesday and then taking out sixth-seeded Alcorn State on Friday, 60-55.
As for the top-seeded Delta Devils, they were expected to be here considering than crushed the rest of the SWAC with a record of 17-1 this season. They've won this event a total of four times, the last trophy being taken home in 2008 after slipping by Jackson State, 59-58.
This year the top team in the SWAC defeated that same Jackson State squad in the quarterfinals three days ago, 63-60, and then topped fifth-seeded Arkansas-Pine Bluff last night, 71-64.
Mississippi Valley won both of the regular-season meetings, the first being a 77-69 decision in Houston back on Jan. 23 and then delivering a 56-53 triumph at home a month later.
Texas Southern shot a dismal 32.7 percent from the floor, including 2-of-14 behind the three-point line against Alcorn State yesterday, yet somehow the Tigers still figured out a way to make it into the win column. Much of that had to do with the team's 24-of-30 shooting performance at the free-throw line, while the competition connected on just 11-of-20 at the charity stripe. Omar Strong posted a game-high 18 points, Madarious Gibbs chipped in with 12 and D'Angelo Scott 10 points, while Daniel King came off the bench to come within two points of a double-double as he cleared 10 rebounds for the unit. Strong, the leading scorer for the team in seven of the last eight outings, is actually the only player averaging double figures for the team this season overall with his 12.8 ppg. Strong is a three-point specialist who has converted 94 three-pointers, one of the top totals in all of college basketball and still the opposition has made 45 more triples than the Tigers this season.
Cor-J Cox led the way for the Delta Devils on Friday as he tallied 19 points and pulled down 11 rebounds off the bench in just 26 minutes of action, as the team dismissed Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the semifinals. Also having a strong game for the squad were Paul Crosby with 18 points and six rebounds, followed by Amos Studivant with 14 and nine boards for a team that survived a mere 6- of-21 shooting behind the three-point line by clearing 19 offensive rebounds and beating the competition on the glass by a 44-29 margin. Heading into yesterday's matchup, Joyner was the leading scorer for the group with his 13.5 ppg, performing slightly better against conference foes with 14.2 ppg, although his accuracy at the free-throw line in those games was still a major issue at just 53.8 percent. As a team, MVSU was shooting only 63.6 percent at the charity stripe in conference outings.