Grambling State rallies for OT win in NCAA tournament debut

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By journalsofus.com


DAYTON, Ohio – Grambling State coach Donte Jackson’s past, present and future came together in the First Four on Wednesday night.

Jackson returned to the area where he completed college at Central State, where he met his wife Shelithia and where he began his coaching career, and not just in basketball. After helping lead Grambling State to a historic win, he left the field holding Shelithia’s hand, his team still alive in the NCAA Tournament.

“I actually coached tennis as well,” Jackson said. “I found tennis players in the crowd, former basketball players in the crowd.”

In their “second home” Jackson’s former players watched No. 16 seed Grambling State erase a 14-point deficit in the second half to defeat fellow No. 16 seed Montana State 88–81 in overtime. The Tigers advance to the Midwest Region and will face No. 1 seed Purdue on Friday in Indianapolis.

After going 0–28 in eleven seasons, Grambling State won its NCAA Tournament debut, becoming the first team to open 1–0 in the event since Northwestern in 2017.

“To get a win in the first round is amazing,” Jackson said. “It’s just a great showcase for our program, just to let these guys know that they could have gone to all these other big schools and things of that nature, but they made the right choice by coming to Grambling.”

The Tigers became the ninth HBCU program to win in the NCAA Tournament and the sixth since 2000. They did so behind an unexpected hero in second-year guard Jimmel Cofer, who scored all of his team-high 19 points in the second half in overtime. Not playing the first half at all, or Grambling’s SWAC championship game win over Texas Southern.

“Even when I’m not playing, I’m still tied to the game because eventually, my name is going to be called,” Cofer said.

“I tell him, ‘Just be ready, just be ready,'” Jackson said.

Jackson, in an effort to have more size against Montana State’s ball screens, replaced Grambling State’s leading scorer, Kintavious Dozier, with Cofer, who played only six minutes after halftime. Cofer repeatedly attacked Montana State star Robert Ford III, who had a game-high 26 points and 6 of 8 on 3-point attempts, but played most of the stretch run with four fouls.

Trailing 42–33 at halftime, Grambling State players admitted that some in their locker room were arguing.

“We’re a team that once we argue, five, 10 minutes later, we come back, we’re going to high-five, we’re going to talk about adjustments,” senior wing Jordan Smith said. Are.” Who had 18 points and 9 rebounds.

By the time Jackson entered the room, the players, especially on defense, had made the necessary changes. Despite the hot shooting of Ford and junior forward Brian Gorake, the Tigers held Montana State to only 30 points in the second half, and mixed up some field goal play to defeat the Bobcats.

“They’re built for adversity,” Jackson said of his players. “I have a lot of people who come from disadvantaged circumstances and things of that nature, and adversity is part of life. It’s about how you bounce back when you get into bad situations.”

Grambling State has less than 48 hours to recharge before facing Purdue, which is led by 2023 national player of the year Zach Eddy. Last year, Purdue became only the second No. 1 seed to lose against a No. 16 seed in Fairleigh Dickinson, which had also won its First Four game before facing the Boilermakers.

Purdue has lost by double digits in each of its last three NCAA Tournament appearances.

“They don’t have the No. 1 seed for nothing,” Jackson said. “They have the best big man in the country, and we have to come in and play. [I’ll watch] Lots of movies tonight. “I’m not sleeping much anyway.”

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