Gonzaga entertains well-traveled Tigers in season opener

Texas Southern coach Mike Davis, shown in Dec., 2016, file photo, talks to players during a road game at Cincinnati. (John Minchillo / Associated Press)

The college basketball season is here and that means one thing for Texas Southern:

Gentlemen, pack your bags for a few months.

The Tigers are the sport’s road warriors, tackling a non-conference schedule that begins with Gonzaga on Friday and will take them to Washington State, Ohio State, Syracuse, Kansas, Clemson, Oakland, Toledo, Oregon, Baylor, Wyoming, TCU and BYU before playing their first home game on Jan. 1.

They do it every year, but there’s a method to coach Mike Davis’ road madness.

“I have total control of my schedule,” Davis said, “and so the reason I do it is because I know the important thing for us is winning our conference. The key thing about being a good player and a good team is how fast you can recover from bad situations.

“Playing all these really good teams, they’re going to make runs on us. Do we start playing pick-up basketball or stay with the game plan? We’re never going to face anybody like we do (in the non conference) so when we get into conference we can recover fast.”

Last year’s slate included Arizona, Louisville, Cincinnati, LSU, TCU and Baylor. The Tigers’ home opener came on Jan. 14.

Texas Southern visited Gonzaga (Zags won, 94-54) in the 2015 season, along with visits to Indiana, Tennessee, SMU, Baylor, Florida, Michigan State, Auburn and Kansas State. The Houston-based Tigers squeezed in a rare non-conference home game, against Lamar on Nov. 28, that season.

The Tigers collect a lot of money – in the neighborhood of $100,000 from Gonzaga and nearly $1 million this season – and usually a lot of losses. Davis can live with the latter as long as the team continues to improve and thrives in Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Davis puts the dollars back into the program. The Tigers fly commercial but they don’t cut corners on hotels, meals, etc., in an effort to “give our guys a great experience,” said Davis, who had previous coaching stints at Indiana and Alabama-Birmingham.

“If losing a basketball game is so devastating you’re going to suffer in life,” he said. “This is part of you handling situations in life. Everybody use to call me and text me and say they feel so bad. If we lose four or five games in the SWAC, then call me.”

Davis has guided the Tigers to four conference regular-season titles, three SWAC Tournament crowns and three NCAA Tournaments in his five seasons. The Tigers lost to North Carolina in the opening round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. UNC defeated Gonzaga in the title game.

Texas Southern has had road breakthroughs, including Kansas State and Michigan State in 2015, the same season the Spartans reached the Final Four.

“I feel we can compete out of conference,” Davis said, “and once we get to conference I feel like we can dominate.”

Texas Southern’s key returners are point guard Demontrae Jefferson (14.8 points last year), forward Kevin Scott (10.0 points, 4.9 rebounds) and forward Lamont Walker (3.6 points, 3.5 rebounds). Jefferson and Scott were first-team All-SWAC preseason selections and Walker was on the second team.

Davis expects contributions from transfers Donte Clark (UMass), Trayvon Reed (Auburn) and Derrick Bruce (Oregon State).

“The challenge for us is always the same: Can we play good basketball early?’ ” Davis said. “It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about preparing ourselves for the conference run.”