DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — So much for first-time jitters.
Chris Eversley scored 19 points to help Cal Poly avoid its 20th loss of the season and win its first NCAA tournament game, 81-69 victory over Texas Southern on Wednesday night in the First Four.
The Mustangs (14-19) were 0-3 and 4-9 early before losing nine of 11 heading into the Big West Conference tournament — which they won to earn the program’s first NCAA bid.
The team with the worst record in the tournament now moves on to face the one with the best — top-seeded Wichita State (34-0) — in the second round in St. Louis on Friday.
There have been 23 teams with losing records in the NCAA tournament since 1955. Only three teams had won in the first/opening round.
Aaric Murray closed out his career with 38 points for Texas Southern (19-15), champs of the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.
David Nwaba added 17 points and Brian Bennett — who was a perfect 5 for 5 from the field — had 10 for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly had participated in seven Division II tournaments, finishing third in 1981.
The 81 points were the Mustangs’ second-highest total all season. They shot 57 percent from the field (29 of 51).
Coach Mike Davis, in his second year with Texas Southern after earlier leading Indiana and UAB to the big tournament, was clearly not happy during two timeouts to try to get his team to play better on defense.
Murray was the top player on the court, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers. Originally a blue-chip recruit for La Salle, he left there for West Virginia where he was dismissed from the team. In his final year of eligibility for Texas Southern, he had 28 points against Stanford, 30 against Tulsa and 48 against Temple in his return home to Philadelphia.
Cal Poly dominated most of the first half to build a 12-point lead at the break and never let it go.
Down by as many as 16 points early in the second half, the Tigers fought back with a 9-4 run to get the lead down to single figures. It stayed there until the Mustangs awakened.
Murray had a jam and two foul shots to narrow it to 70-62 with 4:42 left before the teams traded points.
Cal Poly took time off the clock until Kyle Odister missed a long 3, but Nwaba was fouled on the rebound and hit the second shot with 1:42 remaining.
Texas Southern then turned it over when Rodriguez bowled over Jamal Johnson on a drive.
Eversley was quickly fouled and swished both and the lead was back to 76-66 with just over a minute left as the small contingent of Mustangs fans cheered across from their team’s bench.
The Mustangs salted the game away at the line in the final 60 seconds.
Ganging up on the Tigers’ Murray at every opportunity, the Mustangs pulled away midway through the opening half.
Trailing 17-16 after a Murray 3 which gave him 11 points, Cal Poly took the lead for good on Bennett’s slashing move to the hoop. After a Texas Southern miss, Bennett scored again on a 14-foot jumper. Those two baskets keyed a 16-7 burst for a 32-24 lead.
Murray ended up 14 of 23 from the field, 3 of 5 behind the arc and a perfect 7 for 7 at the line.
The Mustangs led the Big West in scoring defense, allowing 63.4 points a game while finishing last in scoring (63.2). Conversely, the Tigers led the SWAC in scoring (76.2 points) but was near the bottom in defense (73.7).
Texas Southern was making its fifth NCAA trip, and fell to 0-5.