NEW ORLEANS — Xavier University of Louisiana men’s basketball ended its lengthy Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament championship drought Sunday with a come-from-behind 78-75 victory against Tougaloo at the Convocation Center.
The Gold Rush (27-6) won the tournament for the first time since 1996. XULA earned the GCAC’s automatic bid to the NAIA Division I National Championship tournament, which will begin March 18 in Kansas City, Mo. The NAIA will announce Wednesday the 32-team bracket and pairings.
XULA took the lead for good in the final minute for the second consecutive day, this time on freshman guard TJ Jones’s shot-clock-beating layup with 14 seconds remaining to make it 77-75. Sunday also was Jones’s birthday.
Sean Atwater missed a 2-pointer for the Bulldogs (24-8) after Jones’s score, and another XULA freshman, Cameron Wells, rebounded and was fouled with six seconds remaining. Wells made the second of two free throws for the final point of the game.
Tougaloo never attempted a shot on its final possession. Stanley Williams dribbled the ball off of his leg near midcourt, and Donovan Armstrong recovered the ball for XULA as time expired.
Rayshawn Mart scored 20 points and William Loyd 15 for XULA, and Cameron Dumas and Jones scored 10 apiece. Loyd, a senior forward, was named tournament MVP, and Mart and Makye Richard joined him on the six-player all-tournament team.
Datavian Porter, Justin Johnson and Atwater scored 15 points apiece for Tougaloo. Ledarius Woods scored 12 points, and Sebron Carter had 10.
Tougaloo led 39-33 at halftime and 60-56 after a Woods 3-pointer with 8:13 remaining.
Both teams shot well, with XULA finishing at 61.2 percent from the floor and Tougaloo at 53.5 percent. The Gold Rush shot 68 percent in the second half. But both teams missed 10 free throws apiece in the final 20 minutes.
XULA was a five-time GCAC Tournament runner-up — in 2008, 2011, 2015, 2016 and 2018 — between 1996 and Sunday.
“It’s great to finally break through and see Xavier win this thing again,” fourth-year XULA head coach Alfred Williams said. “Our guys played with a lot of resolve and desire to end the streak. We’ve had a great year, but we’re looking to keep this run going at nationals.”
XULA has won five straight, eight of its last nine games, 17 of its last 19 and 23 of its last 26.
Although XULA was seeded first and Tougaloo second in the tournament, Tougaloo held the higher national ranking in the most recent coaches poll. The Bulldogs were 12th, and the Gold Rush were 15th. A new top 25 will be announced Wednesday.
Also named all-tournament were Tougaloo’s Woods, Talladega’s Daryl Baker and Dillard’s Tyrell Alcorn.
The trip to NAIA nationals will be XULA’s 12th in its last 16 seasons and 19th overall.