NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett has known Texas Southern’s leading scorer since middle school and even played him five or six times.
For his part, Demontrae Jefferson says he might need to see a face to remember Bluiett when asked about their relationship.
Don’t take that as bulletin board material. Texas Southern coach Mike Davis said that’s just the personality and attitude that has turned his 5-foot-7 sophomore guard into a player that might get a few NBA looks, a confident player who won’t acknowledge knowing who anyone else is because Jefferson believes he’s the best to ever play the game.
Not even LeBron James.
”The worst that you can do is start talking about another player,” Davis said Thursday. ”Trae acts like he doesn’t know who he is. I asked him did he know LeBron James. He says, `I don’t know LeBron James.”’
Jefferson and Texas Southern will get their firsthand look at Bluiett on Friday night when they play Xavier, the No. 1 seed in the West Region. The Tigers already have made school history with their first NCAA Tournament win in eight tries, and even better, they’re the first team ever with a losing record to win a tournament game .
The Tigers (16-19) got into Nashville by 2 a.m. Thursday and made a quick trip to Steak `n Shake before hitting the bed after beating North Carolina Central in Dayton . Sleep is not a problem for a team that played its first 13 games all on the road against the likes of Gonzaga and Kansas – and lost every one.
”This isn’t nothing we haven’t done before, like we had back-to-back games, flying state to state, all non-conference,” said Jefferson from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. ”So just back to the basics, really.”
The Musketeers (28-5) have seen enough of Jefferson and Texas Southern not to think of them as a No. 16 seed.
”He lacks the size, but he makes up for it with his scoring and all that,” Bluiett said of the Tigers’ leading scorer. ”We have shown that we have trouble with small guards in the past, but I feel like we’ve made adjustments to that and so, hopefully, we’ll be able to contain him.”
Xavier coach Chris Mack certainly has seen Jefferson show off his skills on YouTube. Mack’s Musketeers, who lost to Gonzaga in the Elite Eight last year, have their own big goals this March.
”Being locked in and having fun and being a group that is playing to win a national championship (Friday) night is who we’re going to be,” Mack said.
Some things to know about the rest of the West Region games on tap Friday:
BACK TO NORMAL? Cameron Johnson’s back has been probably the biggest concern for an otherwise healthy North Carolina team. The Pittsburgh graduate transfer injured his back when a Miami player landed on him during last week’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
Johnson played through the injury but ultimately had to sit the final minutes of the title-game loss to top-ranked Virginia. Both Johnson and coach Roy Williams said Johnson made it through Thursday morning’s practice and they expect him to be fine.
The second-seeded Tar Heels (25-10) open their pursuit to repeat as national champions Friday against 15-seed Lipscomb (23-9) in Charlotte, North Carolina.
”A little bit of low-back tightness when I stand up and come up, but that’s all going away,” Johnson said. ”It’s starting to feel a lot better and I’m feeling pretty comfortable out there.”
REDEMPTION FOR PURYEAR: With highly touted recruit Michael Porter Jr. injured for most of the season, Missouri (20-12) has relied on newcomers like graduate transfer Kassius Robertson and freshmen Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon.
The Tigers’ drive to Friday night’s NCAA Tournament game against No. 9 seed Florida State will be particularly sweet for junior forward Kevin Puryear, who survived an 8-24 season last year and a 10-21 campaign in 2015-16.
”I used to walk around with my hood on last year,” Puryear said. ”I didn’t really want people to see me because it was just kind of embarrassing to lose that much, especially when you’re going out there and giving your all every single game.
”It was an extremely frustrating and hard time for me, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through in the course of my life. I’m just grateful for those lessons.”
A win would give Florida State (20-11) a chance at its own redemption against Xavier, the team that upset the Seminoles in a 91-66 rout in the second round last year.
”It’s definitely motivation, a lot more motivation to get to the next round to see them as a rematch,” Seminoles senior guard Terance Mann said. ”But we got this game (Friday) night that we’ve got to focus on.”
REBOUNDING CONCERNS: When Texas A&M and Providence meet in Charlotte, the Friars know they had better figure out a way to rebound with the bigger Aggies.
The seventh-seeded Aggies (20-12) rank 23rd nationally in rebounding margin behind a pair of 6-foot-10 bigs in Tyler Davis and Robert Williams. That presents a difficult matchup for the 10th-seeded Friars (21-13), who typically don’t start anyone taller than 6-9.
Guard Kyron Cartwright said the scouting report contained a yellow piece of paper reading ”box out.”
”It’s not secret, you know,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. ”Texas A&M is a very physical team, they’re a powerful team, they have NBA size in a lot of different positions. …It was definitely talked about in everything that we do. You may have a block-out sign on your back right now and don’t even know it.”
AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report from Charlotte, North Carolina, and AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee contributed in Nashville.
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