Both teams were seeking their first NCAA tournament win.
Damontrae Jefferson, a 5-foot-7 guard, scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lift No. 16 seed Texas Southern (16-19), which became the first team with a losing record to win a tournament game. The Tigers started the season 0-13 against a rough schedule and didn't win a game until Jan. 1. Now they move on face No. 1 seed Xavier on Friday.
Texas Southern slipped into the First Four by getting hot and winning the Southwest Athletic College Tournament. The Tigers met the Eagles, winners of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament, who were making a second straight appearance in Dayton for a play-in game.
"We didn't give our best shot," N.C. Central coach Levelle Moton said. "We knew our freshmen would have to play like seniors and our walk-on would have to play like a scholarship junior. We fell short tonight. We were outplayed, outcoached, out-toughed. And they've been here before."
Both the conferences get an automatic bid every year but rarely have to play each other.
N.C. Central (19-16) was led by Raasean Davis with 19 points and 11 rebounds, part of a starting five that included a pair of true freshmen guards and a walk-on.
"Next year the standard is to win this game," Davis said. "We fell short during the conference, but we ended up winning the MEAC tournament and we got here. We got to the NCAA tournament but I feel like next year the standard will be to at least win one game in the NCAA tournament."
Davis was the only Eagle in double figures. Pablo Rivas, a junior who came in averaging 11.8 points per game for the Eagles, was held to just seven points on 3 of 10 shooting. He missed all three of his three-point efforts.
"These past two seasons just being disappointed for me to come out here and make it to this big stage and coming up with 2 L's," Rivas said. "We didn't play like we were the best team to come here and finish the job."
Texas Southern led by 10 at the half on Jefferson's 17 points. The sophomore, who along with Miami's Chris Lykes is the shortest player in the tournament, tied the score at 10 with a jumper, then fed an alley-oop pass to Trayvon Reed for a monster dunk and followed with a layup to cap an 8-0 run.
The Tigers wouldn't relinquish the lead.
The Eagles hurt themselves with terrible shooting, especially in the second half. They shot just 30.4 percent for the game - including 0 for 14 from 3-point range. They also committed 15 turnovers.
The last time NCCU failed to make a single 3 was Nov. 15, 2012, against Southern, when it missed four attempts.
The Eagles got back to the First Four again despite losing all of last year's starters. But they couldn't keep up with Jefferson and his mates in what was considered to be this year's national championship of historically black college basketball.
The Tigers advance to play No. 1 seed Xavier in Nashville on Friday.