Jefferson did a lot of everything Wednesday night, hitting layups and 3-pointers, grabbing rebounds, playing defense and making his teammates look good. A slippery-quick 5-foot-7 guard, Jefferson also helped Texas Southern make history.
Playing all but the last minute or so of the game, he scored 25 points, pulled down 8 rebounds, flexed and crowed as Texas Southern got its first-ever N.C.A.A. tournament win, a 64-46 rout of North Carolina Central in a play-in game Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
Texas Southern (16-19), a No. 16 seed, became the first team with a losing record to win a tournament game. Playing a tough schedule, the Tigers started the season 0-13 — the worst start for a tournament team in N.C.A.A. history — and did not win a game until Jan. 1. Tempered by November and December opponents that included Gonzaga, Ohio State and Kansas, they were ready to play Wednesday, and now move on face No. 1 seed Xavier on Friday.
“It was for the university,” Jefferson said. “We actually made history today for the university, and we kind of knew that coming into this game.”
Donte Clark had 18 points and Trayvon Reed added 10 points and 8 rebounds for Texas Southern, a historically black college in Houston. The Tigers slipped into the tournament by winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament after going 12-5 in conference play. The Tigers were paired with the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament winner North Carolina Central, another historically black college that was making its second straight appearance in Dayton for a play-in game with a completely new starting lineup.
North Carolina Central (19-16) was led by Raasean Davis with 19 points. He was part of a starting five that included a pair of freshman guards and a walk-on.
Texas Southern led by 10 at the half on Jefferson’s 17 points. A sophomore who along with Miami’s Chris Lykes is the shortest player in the tournament, Jefferson tied the score at 10-10 with a jumper, then fed an alley-oop pass to Trayvon Reed for a monster dunk and followed with a layup to cap an 8-0 run. The Tigers did not relinquish the lead.
“You can’t train your brain to stay focused unless you go through some tough times,” said Mike Davis, Texas Southern’s coach. “And 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.”
The Eagles hurt themselves Wednesday with terrible shooting, especially in the second half. They shot just 30.4 percent for the game — including 0 for 14 from 3-point range.
“We didn’t give our best shot,” said Levelle Moton, North Carolina Central’s coach. “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.”
Freshman Oshae Brissett had a double-double and led Syracuse’s second-half comeback, and the Orange — the last team to make the N.C.A.A. Tournament — held on for a 60-56 victory over Arizona State on Wednesday night in the First Four.
The 11th-seeded Orange plays No. 6 seed Texas Christian (21-11) on Friday in Detroit in the Midwest Region.
Syracuse (21-13) had to sweat out Selection Sunday and wound up as the last team to make the bracket, sent to the First Four. The Orange prevailed in a matchup of teams that started fast and then faded onto the tournament bubble.
Arizona State (20-12) opened the season with 12 wins, including victories over tournament No. 1 seeds Xavier and Kansas. The Sun Devils went 8-12 the rest of the way. They also faded at the end of their tournament game.
Brissett overcame a hard fall in the first half, and finished the game with 23 points and 12 rebounds. He had a three-point play and a step-back jumper as the Orange overcame a seven-point deficit with 7 minutes left.
Tyus Battle’s 3-pointer put Syracuse ahead to stay. With a chance to take the lead, Arizona State’s Shannon Evans II missed a 3-pointer with 2 seconds to go. Frank Howard got the rebound, was fouled and made both free throws to clinch it.