Back to back: Texas Southern claims another NCAA bid

The Texas Southern University Tigers on Saturday became the first program from the state to qualify for the 2022 NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

Led by a front line of Joirdon Karl Nicholas, Brishon Gresham and John Walker III, the Tigers broke open a tight battle in the second half and stormed to a 87-62 victory over the Alcorn State Braves for the Southwestern Athletic Conference title.

In the game played at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Ala., second-seeded Texas Southern shot 55.7 percent from the field and knocked off Alcorn, seeded No. 1, for its second straight SWAC title and the accompanying NCAA automatic bid under Coach Johnny Jones.

Walker led the Tigers with 17 points off the bench. Gresham, a 6-9, 240-pound transfer from the University of Houston, blocked five shots. Nicholas had eight rebounds as Texas Southern won the boards, 44-35.

Other automatic qualifiers so far on Saturday: Virginia Tech in the ACC, UAB in Conference USA, Montana State in the Big Sky and Akron in the Mid-American Conference.

Also on Saturday: Villanova in the Big East, Kansas in the Big 12 and Boise State out of the Mountain West.

Earlier in the day: St. Peter’s (N.J.) in the MAAC, Norfolk State (Va.) in the MEAC and Vermont in the America East.

Kansas downed Texas Tech, 74-65, at Kansas City for the Big 12’s automatic bid. The Red Raiders are expected to receive an at-large bid when the bracket is unveiled on Sunday night.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., junior guard Hunter Catoor scored 31 points as the seventh-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies upset the Duke Blue Devils, 82-67. Paolo Banchero scored 20 for the Blue Devils.

NCAA automatic bids

Virginia Tech — Atlantic Coast Conference
Alabama-Birmingham — Conference USA
Montana State — Big Sky
Akron (Ohio) — Mid-American Conference
Villanova — Big East
Texas Southern — Southwestern Athletic Conference
Boise State — Mountain West
Kansas — Big 12
St. Peter’s (N.J.) — MAAC
Norfolk State (Va.) — MEAC
Vermont — America East
Colgate (N.Y.) — Patriot League
Gonzaga (Wash.) — West Coast Conference
Jacksonville State (Ala.) — Atlantic Sun
Bryant (R.I.) — Northeast Conference
Delaware — Colonial Athletic Association
Wright State (Ohio) — Horizon League
South Dakota State — Summit League
Chattanooga (Tenn.) — Southern Conference
Georgia State — Sun Belt
Longwood (Va.) — Big South
Loyola-Chicago — Missouri Valley
Murray State (Ky.) — Ohio Valley