HOUSTON — Defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Texas Southern waited until the new year to play its first home game of the 2017-18 season.
And the Tigers wasted no time making themselves right at home Monday night at HP&E Arena.
Demontrae Jefferson and Derrick Bruce combined to make 13 3-pointers and 53 points as Texas Southern ran past Southern 78-66 in the SWAC opener for both teams.
TSU (1-13, 1-0) began the year with 13 straight road losses against non-conference opponents, but picked right back up in its SWAC dominance.
“They are at home for their first game and they shot the ball really well tonight,” SU first-year coach Morris Scott said. “We didn’t help ourselves, giving them a lot of second-chance opportunities.
“But anytime you get a bigger lead like they had, the basket feels a lot bigger. And there is not as much pressure on you and it goes in a lot easier. We just need to do a better job.”
The Jaguars struggled offensively, with leading scorer Jared Sam being defended under the basket by 7-foot-2 TSU center Trayvon Reed, who had 11 rebounds and nine blocks.
“He does a great job of protecting the rim,” Scott said. “He’s a really long kid — 7-2 — so he really does a great job and we just couldn’t get it going on the inside.”
On the perimeter, it was Jefferson and Bruce who were relentless, quickly answering with big 3s anytime Southern put together a little momentum.
Bruce made 8-of-12 shots from 3-point range and finished with a game-high 28 points. Jefferson made 5-of-11 3 pointers and scored 25.
Southern (4-9, 0-1) was led by Sam, who scored 16 points, while Sidney Umude came off the bench to add 14.
Eddie Reese hit three 3-pointers for Southern, but missed his other eight shots from the field.
TSU only led by three at the half, but a 9-0 run midway through the second half gave the Tigers a double-digit lead they would not hand back.
Things got testy at the end when SU’s Chris Thomas and Jefferson were ejected with 15.6 seconds remaining for pushing after Thomas fouled Jefferson hard under the basket.
“It’s just two teams battling,” Scott said. “Our team is frustrated because we are down. We go up and foul a kid and they just get into it because it is a heated battle. It is a tough game, a rivalry game. It was just a tough aggressive play and hopefully we can move past that.
Southern will continue its Texas road trip Wednesday, looking for its first conference win against Prairie View.
“It’s a tough loss, but we can’t put our head down because the next one comes too quick,” Scott said. “On the road it’s always tough. We just hope we can go on the road and get one of these two games. Hopefully we can get in the win column and go home.”