Two and through.
That’s typically the path of historically black colleges and universities in the NCAA Tournament. The Mid-Eastern Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference champions arrive to the Big Dance with much of the same fanfare as the other one-bid conferences only to be ousted before the party really gets jumping.
Unfortunately, the 2016-17 campaign was no different.
North Carolina Central, the best shooting team in the MEAC, connected on just 35.8 percent of its field goal attempts in a 67-63 First Four loss against UC Davis. SWAC champion Texas Southern got fed to No. 1 North Carolina in the first round of the South Regional and promptly suffered its largest defeat of the season.
But with the Sweet 16 set to tipoff Thursday, there are still players to pay attention to for those with ties to HBCUS. Xavier seniors forward RaShid Gaston (7.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is a Norfolk State transfer and guard Malcolm Bernard is a Florida A&M alumnus. Bernard, a Miami native whose college hoops career began at Charleston Southern, graduated from FAMU this past May. He decided to transfer to Xavier, pursue a master’s degree and play out his final year of college eligibility this past summer.
Former FAMU Rattler now Xavier player Malcolm Bernard speaks some hard truth about the Rattlers 🏀 program. pic.twitter.com/Zoi2JYnZS1
— Asher Wildman (@AsherWildMan6) March 17, 2017
“Guys are looking for better opportunities. Guys want to go play somewhere else where they feels as if they can be productive,” Bernard told WCTV’s Asher Wildman.
Bernard was the second star to leave under former Rattlers coach Byron Samuels. Jermaine Ruttley, once the MEAC’s third-leading scorer, departed Tallahassee for Arkansas-Little Rock after the 2014-15 season. A day before Samuels was fired, FAMU guard Craig Bowman announced he was leaving the program.
After being seeded 11th by the tournament selection committee, the Musketeers proceeded to knock off both No. 6 Maryland and No. 3 Florida State by double-digit margins. The Musketeers (23-13) will look to sleigh another dragon when they face second-seeded Arizona (32-4) at 10:09 p.m. ET in the West Regional semifinals Thursday.
During his lone season in Tallahassee in 2015-16, Bernard did it all, leading the Rattlers in points (14.4), rebounds (7.1), assists (4.3) and steals (2.3) per game. He earned second-team All-MEAC honors as FAMU struggled to an 8-21 record, the second of three-straight losing seasons under Samuels.
At Xavier, he has been a helpful addition since he stepped foot on campus, averaging 6.4 points and four rebounds per game while starting in 33 of 36 contests. He’s also the team’s leading 3-point shooter at 38.7 percent.
Bernard filled out the stat sheet nicely in Xavier’s win against the Terrapins and Seminoles. He scored six points in each contest. He snatched six rebounds against Maryland and grabbed five to help take down the Florida State.
He couldn’t imagine himself playing in the NCAA Tournament, something FAMU hasn’t done since 2007, had he stayed in Tallahassee.
“Everybody wants to play in the NCAA tournament,” Bernard said. “No one wants to be a loser. No one wants to finish last. So, I feel like that’s the reason why guys are getting out.”
UPDATE – 12:41 p.m.: This article was updated to include Norfolk State transfer RaShid Gaston.