There wasn’t time for Norfolk State and Texas Southern coaches to celebrate after a historic day in the men’s NCAA Tournament on Thursday, as two historically black colleges/universities in Division I won in the tournament for the first time in the same year.
Bigger challenges await after the Spartans of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference got past Appalachian State 54-53, and the Tigers, who won the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament, held off Mount St. Mary’s 60-52.
The victories in the First Four send them into first-round games less than 48 hours later against No. 1 seeds. Norfolk State will face Gonzaga, while Texas Southern takes on Michigan.
“I don’t know when I am going to go to sleep,” Norfolk State coach Robert Jones said. “I don’t know when our coaches are going to go to sleep because we usually do the scouts two days in advance for our players to start getting familiar with their next opponent. … We’re going to stay up all night to finish it.”
Norfolk State guard Devante Carter, center, reacts with coach Robert Jones, left, after their win against Appalachian State in the First Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. (Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski, USA TODAY Sports)
Jalen Hawkins, who scored 24 points off the bench in the Spartans' win, said in his postgame news conference he was already looking ahead to facing the top-rated team in the tournament.
“It starts tonight,” Hawkins said. “We start our scouts tonight. Everything. We’re locked in Friday night, Saturday night, we’re locked in.”
These types of wins are rare. The MEAC is now 7-38 in the tournament. The conference’s last first-round win was Norfolk State’s defeat of No. 2 seed Missouri in 2012. The SWAC is 7-36 overall, and its last first-round win came in 1993 when Southern defeated No. 4 seed Georgia Tech.
The history of the moment wasn’t lost. At a time when HBCUs are getting more attention — from Jackson State hiring Deion Sanders as football coach and heralded basketball recruit Makur Maker enrolled at Howard — the victories Friday are positive developments for the leagues.
“You don’t even understand. That’s probably maybe one of the best feelings of it all,” Texas Southern's John Walker III said. “To be able to be a symbol for HBCUs across the country and then win on top, it is amazing, because I know there’s a lot of teams that wish they could be here and that’s just going to be more motivation next year. That’s going to make the whole league better.”
In addition to the added exposure and the opportunity to play on a national stage, another benefit is some serious revenue for each conference. The NCAA rewards team performance in the tournament based on a distribution formula that gives out units for an appearance and any win. That gives the MEAC and SWAC two units each so far this tournament.
The NCAA said a unit this season would be worth $337,141. The units are paid out every year for a period of six seasons, so that means it could be worth $2 million or more each for two conferences that financially lag behind bigger leagues.That is significant.
A third unit will be difficult. That doesn’t mean these teams will back down.
“It's a whole different animal in Gonzaga, and we understand that, trust me,” Jones said. “We understand that. At the same time, as a program we have the two largest (upsets) by point spread in both the NIT and NCAA. So why not do it again?”
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith
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