Tigers Clinch Spot In Title Game After Semifinal Win Over Alabama A&M
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Texas Southern is back in the spot it’s known as its second home for nearly a decade – the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game.
The No. 8 seed Tigers clinched their eighth consecutive berth in the title match after knocking off No. 5 seed Alabama A&M 74-61 in the semifinals at Bartow Arena in Birmingham. This is the lowest seeding for the program during this run of glory.
“We were fighting at the end of the season to make sure we’d be a part of this tournament. To get here, you get an opportunity to wipe the slate clean,” Texas Southern head coach Johnny Jones said.
“We’ve come here being a high seed. We’re an eight seed, but our guys don’t look at that. We feel like we’re playing well at the right time.”
The Tigers and Bulldogs drew even in the first half with a 28-28 score at intermission. However, in the second half, Texas Southern showed its championship grit that has been prevalent for 10 years.
The Tigers found ways to climb over Alabama A&M’s massive height advantage. They outscored the Bulldogs 32-20 with points in the paint. Texas Southern forward Davon Barnes had 20 points. In contrast, the frontcourt for the Bulldogs tallied 15.
“They have one of the biggest teams in the league. I knew it would be tough down there, so I just did my part to score and get every rebound,” said Barnes, who also had a double-double with 10 boards.”
Tigers guard PJ Henry lit up the show with a game-high 26 points on 7 of 19 shooting. He was best from 3-point range, hitting 4 of 9.
“The floor opened up in many ways for me,” Henry said. “When my defender’s up close, I use my speed. They have to decide to step up or play back on me.”
Fatigue was also a factor for Alabama A&M. Its quarterfinals game versus Southern on Friday night ended 14 hours before tipping off against Texas Southern.
“It was tough and it challenged you. It takes you back to AAU when you played multiple games. In this business, that’s something you have to go through. You just have to be positive,” Bulldogs guard/forward Brandon Powell said.
Despite the quick turnaround, Alabama A&M head coach Otis Hughley Jr. didn’t label the time factor as an excuse. He praised Texas Southern as the gold standard in the SWAC. Hughley also aims to surpass the Tigers in the future.
“This might be the TSU invitational because of their experience. We just feel humbled to play that kind of team,” Hughley said.
“Don’t get it twisted, we’re trying to win. It’s like Detroit (Pistons) versus the (L.A.) Lakers or the Pistons versus the (Chicago) Bulls. We want to be on that path. Hopefully, this is a step in that direction.”
Texas Southern aims for its third straight SWAC crown. It faces No. 2 Grambling State on Saturday, March 11 at 4:30 p.m. (CST).