Texas Southern head coach Mike Davis said he's glad he played North Carolina Central now while they are young.
After his Tigers defeated the Eagles 64-46 in a NCAA Tournament First Four game, Davis acknowledged his TSU team was more talented, with at least four high major basketball players on his roster.
N.C. Central head coach LeVelle Moton agreed. He knew the Tigers were more athletic and had more experience. Playing an older team, Moton needed his freshmen to play like juniors and his walk-ons to play like seniors.
It didn't happen, the end result being the Eagles' lowest scoring output in three years.
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Last season, with a team full of seniors, Moton felt like the NCAA moment was too big for that group. So he was surprised when the stage fright caught up to his young team this year.
"I've been around the game since I was 5 years old and you can tell a lot the moment you look in a player's eyes," Moton said. "And the first timeout, I didn't feel as if anyone had that look in their eyes except for Raasean (Davis). And I was trying to get that look out of everyone else's eyes. It looked like they were in awe, (like) the moment was too big."
Davis led the Eagles with a team-high 19 points, scoring 16 of NCCU's first 20 points. But the rest of the team struggled. Even Davis came back down to earth, attempting just one field goal in the second half.
Pablo Rivas, the MEAC Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, was the second leading scorer for the Eagles, with just seven points. N.C. Central had several scoring droughts in both halves, leading to the Tigers being up by 20 with about four minutes remaining in the game. N.C Central had a season-low 20 points in the second half and shot a season-low 30 percent from the floor.
"I knew we were going to have an incredible performance or a poor performance," Moton said. "There was going to be no 'in between.' And there's normally not an 'in between' when you have inexperienced groups. It's going to be: They're oblivious to what's going on, so they perform at a high level. Or they're knowledgeable of what's going on and the pressure (gets) to them. The pressure got to us tonight."
With everyone else struggling, Moton admitted he may have overused Davis, who played 35 minutes, too many for him, according to the eighth-year coach.
"I had to ride him a little more because our guards, we couldn't make a shot," Moton said. "So I was like, wow, we've got to have someone in there who can score. We were 0-for-14 from the 3-point line. These kids can shoot the basketball. That's just nerves and that's just the moment being too big for them."
Moton is right. The Eagles came into the game shooting 30 percent from the field. Mike Davis knew that, and decided to double the shooters. That allowed Raasean Davis to score at will in the first half. When Raasean Davis slowed down, the shooters never got going and that spelled disaster for N.C. Central.
"I think they made a couple of subs," Mike Davis said. "We had an opportunity to dig in the second half."
The Tigers, who played in the NCAA Tournament last season and came into this year's tournament on a seven-game winning streak, played like the veteran group they are. Moton could tell the difference from his young group and the older Tigers, who played to advance.
"I thought we played like a group that was happy to be here instead of a group that was desperate to advance," Moton said. "They (Texas Southern) played desperate to advance. They wanted to go see Xavier. Our guys were happy to be here. And you can't blame them for that because we were the underdogs. They're a mature basketball team and we have to learn how to be mature. And we'll get better as a group and hopefully return.”
Moton should return all five starters next season, including Perkins and fellow freshman Reggie Gardner, who started all 35 games this season. N.C. Central also will return Davis, who was an All-MEAC second team selection.
"Coach Moton told me it's all about getting better," Perkins said after scoring six points against the Tigers. "So next year we plan to be back, me and Raasean, with a better mindset, coming to win games. I feel like we're here to win games, but we didn't deliver like we're supposed to. Next year will be a different story."