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NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - First Four

Jourdan Smith #11 of the Grambling State Tigers celebrates a win over the Montana State Bobcats during the First Four round of the 2024 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament held at the University of Dayton Arena on March 20, 2024, in Dayton, Ohio. | Source: Ben Solomon / Getty

UPDATED: 11 a.m. ET, March 22

Originally published March 20.

After the Grambling State University men’s basketball team made HBCU history this week, the Tigers have a chance to make college sports history as one of the few No. 16 seeds to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But as history has indicated, it can happen. So, just like on Tuesday night, it would be foolhardy to count out Grambling.

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If Grambling does survive, it would be the latest win a growing list of HBCU teams to win an NCAA Tournament game.

After all, it was only last year when the Tigers’ opponent, Purdue University, lost a first-round game in a major upset no one saw coming. The Purdue Boilermakers were seeded No. 1 last year, just like the team is this year.

In that instance, Fairleigh Dickinson University from New Jersey shocked college basketball by beating Purdue, which was led by star 7-foot-4 center Zack Eady, last year’s national player of the year.

Eady is still leading Purdue’s team this season, and he’s still a heavy favorite to win the same Naismith College Player of the Year Award — could he also still be prime for another first-round loss, this time with Grambling doing the damage?

The two teams meet in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region in Indianapolis, which is about 65 miles south of Purdue’s campus in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Oddsmakers determined Purdue is a 26.5 favorite to win, but at least Grambling is in a position to challenge that predicted outcome.

Wisconsin v Purdue

Zach Edey #15 of the Purdue Boilermakers dribbles the ball against Steven Crowl #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers in the second half at Target Center in the Semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on March 16, 2024, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. | Source: David Berding / Getty

Aside from Purdue, just one other No. 1 team has lost in the first round, and both instances have come in just the past six years.

The teams that pulled off the upsets were not HBCUs, putting Grambling in a position to not only make NCAA history but also make even more history for all predominately Black colleges across the country.

The Louisiana-based institution is the lone HBCU to advance in this year’s NCAA Tournament following an impressive second-half comeback with an overtime victory over the Montana State University Bobcats in a “First Four” contest Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.

Jourdan Smith‘s emphatic put-bank dunk in overtime sealed the game as Grambling won 86-81. The Tigers advanced in the tournament’s Midwest Region for the right to play against the No. 1 seed Purdue University in the Boilermakers’ home state of Indiana.

Tuesday night’s game initially looked like it might be getting away from the Tigers, who faced an early deficit before storming back and tying the game to force overtime.

It was an unlikely win for an unlikely team that began the season just 2-10 because of a challenging nonconference schedule (more commonly known as “payout games”).

But where does Grambling’s win over Montana State rank among the other HBCU teams’ NCAA victories?

Grambling v Montana State

Head coach Donte’ Jackson of the Grambling State Tigers reacts against the Montana State Bobcats during the second half in the First Four game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena on March 20, 2024, in Dayton, Ohio. | Source: Michael Hickey / Getty

HBCU teams participate in the NCAA Tournament every year just out of the virtue that they belong to two athletic conferences — the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) — comprised of nothing but historically Black colleges and universities. But whether they win is another story, as they’re typically matched against one of the top four teams in the 68-team field.

But in recent years, with the advent of the “First Four” — an expansion from the previous 64-team field that includes 16-seed underdogs competing against one another (hence, SWAC’s own Grambling vs. Montana State) — has evened the playing field, if you will, allowing more opportunities for HBCUs to win a game.

In fact, the last seven NCAA Tournament games that HBCU teams have won have all come during the First Four, including Wednesday night.

Howard University fell short Tuesday night against Wagner College in the other set of First Four games, which made it uncertain whether an HBCU would be able to pull out a win this year.

Amazingly, Grambling came through.

But where does Grambling’s win rank among the 15 games that HBCU basketball teams have won in the NCAA Tournament over the years? That’s a matter of opinion.

Let’s take a brief look back at the past to commemorate all of the landmark wins that Black college basketball teams have won in the NCAA Tournament, per

Wagner v Howard

Seth Towns #31 of the Howard Bison reacts after being defeated by the Wagner Seahawks 71-68 in the First Four game during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena on March 19, 2024, in Dayton, Ohio. | Source: Dylan Buell / Getty

Neither HBCU team in last year’s NCAA Tournament won a game, but the year before in 2022 was a different story.

That was when 16-seed Texas Southern University advanced after defeating Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 76-67.

A year earlier in 2021, both HBCU teams in the NCAA Tournament won their first games.

The SWAC’s own Texas Southern, seeded 16 again, edged Mt. St. Mary’s University 60-52.

Meanwhile, the MEAC’s Norfolk State University beat Appalachian State University in a thriller, 54-53.

In 2018, HBCUs squared off each other in the First Four when Texas Southern routed North Carolina Central University, 64-46.

In 2015, Hampton University beat Manhattan College, 74-64.

In 2013, North Carolina A&T State University edged Liberty University, 72-72.

In 2012, Norfolk State was seeded 15 — typically the best seed HBCUs can get — and secured a 1-point victory over the 2-seeded University of Missouri with a historic win.

Before what would turn out to be an eight-year NCAA Tournament drought for HBCUs seeking wins, Florida A&M University beat Lehigh University in 2004, 72-57.

SLUG: SP/LEHIGH DATE: 3/16/2004 Neg#: Photog:Preston Keres/T

The ball and the game were out of reach for Austen Rowland and the Lehigh Mountain Hawks during their NCAA opening-round game against Florida A&M University on March 16, 2004. | Source: The Washington Post / Getty

In 2001, in what just may be the single greatest win by an HBCU team in the NCAA Tournament, Hampton University — seeded 15th and coming off a season in which they won 25 games — beat a 2-seed Iowa State University team led by future NBA star Jamaal Tinsley.

The Pirates won 58-57 on the back of senior forward Tarvis Williams, who led the nation averaging nearly five blocked shots per game. The win yielded an iconic photograph of then-Hampton coach Steve Merfeld kicking his legs while being lifted in the air by forward Cleveland Davis.

Hampton Coach Steve Merfeld, 2001 NCAA Tournament

Source: Robert Beck / Getty

In 1997, 15-seed Coppin State University beat 2-seed University of South Carolina, 78-65.

In 1993, 13-seed Southern University convincingly beat 4-seed Georgia Tech University, which boasted multiple future NBA players on its roster.

In 1984, Alcorn State University trounced Houston Baptist University, 79-60.

One year earlier, in 1983, Alcorn State also beat Xavier University, 81-75.

In 1980, Alcorn State, seeded eighth, beat South Alabama University, 70-62, to make the first-ever NCAA Tournament victory by an HBCU team.


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