Grambling State Wins in Overtime In Its First-Ever NCAA Tournament

Donte’ Jackson, the coach of Grambling State, united his history, present, and future on Wednesday night at the First Four.

Jackson went back to his hometown of Central State, where he completed his collegiate education, met Shelithia, and started his coaching career—and not just in basketball. With his team still alive in the NCAA tournament, he departed the arena clutching Shelithia’s hand after leading Grambling State to a historic victory.

Jackson said, “I actually coached tennis, also.” “I got tennis players in the crowd, former basketball players in the crowd.”

Former teammates of Jackson’s at his “second home” saw No. 16 seed Grambling State overcome a 14-point deficit in the second half to defeat No. 16 seed Montana State 88-81 in overtime. The Tigers advanced through the Midwest and will play Purdue, the top seed, in Indianapolis on Friday.

After finishing 0–28 for eleven seasons, Grambling State made their NCAA tournament debut and became the first team to open 1-0 since Northwestern in 2017.

“To get a first-round win, it’s just amazing,” Jackson remarked. “That is just major exposure for our program, just letting these guys know that they could have went to all these other big schools and things of that nature, but they chose right by coming to Grambling.”

The Tigers became the sixth HBCU team to triumph in the NCAA tournament since 2000 and the ninth overall. They succeeded in doing so thanks to an unexpected hero in the form of sophomore guard Jimel Cofer, who played absolutely in the first half of Grambling’s victory over Texas Southern in the SWAC title game and scored all 19 of his team’s points in overtime.

“Even when I’m not playing, I’m locked in on the game because eventually, my name’s going to be called,” Cofer stated.

Jackson went on, “I tell him, ‘Just be ready, just be ready,'”

In an attempt to have more size against Montana State’s ball screens, Jackson benched Kintavious Dozier, the leading scorer for Grambling State, who had played just six minutes after halftime, in favor of Cofer. Robert Ford III, a star player for Montana State who finished with a game-high 26 points and hit 6-of-8 on 3-pointers, was frequently targeted by Cofer and missed a lot of the game’s final stretch due to foul trouble.

The Grambling State players admitted to some arguments in their locker room during the half, trailing 42–33.

Senior wing Jourdan Smith, who finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds, stated, “We’re a team that once we argue, five, 10 minutes later, we’re going to get back, we’re going to high-five, we’re going to talk about adjustments,”

The players had made the required adjustments by the time Jackson entered the room, particularly with regard to defense. The Tigers, who mixed in some zone to confuse the Bobcats, held Montana State to only 30 points in the second half, despite some excellent shooting from junior forward Brian Goracke and forward Ford.

“They’re built on adversity,” Jackson remarked about his team. “I’ve got a lot of guys that come from underprivileged situations and things of that nature, and adversity is part of life. It’s about how you bounce back when you get in a bad situation.”

Less than 48 hours will pass until Grambling State takes on Purdue, who are led by Zach Edey, the 2023 national player of the year. The previous year, Purdue became just the second-ranked team to lose to Fairleigh Dickinson, a No. 16 seed that had previously defeated the Boilermakers in a First Four match.

Throughout its last three NCAA tournament trips, Purdue has fallen short against teams ranked ten or above.

Jackson declared, “They don’t have the No. 1 seed for nothing.” “They have the best big guy in the country, and we’ve got to come in and play. [I’ll watch] lot of film tonight. I haven’t been sleeping much anyway.”