March 19, 1993 is a red letter day in SWAC basketball history. It was a day when the unthinkable happened as Southern University and Jackson State pulled off a pair of stunning postseason upsets.
Southern, the SWAC Tournament champion ran circles around Georgia Tech as they defeated the Yellow Jackets 93-78 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Later that night, Jackson State, the regular season champion, ambushed the University of Connecticut 90-88 in overtime on the Huskies’ home floor in Storrs, Conn., in the first round of the NIT.
“That was a good night for SWAC,” says Ben Jobe, who coached Southern to its landmark victory over Georgia Tech. “Two teams went further than they had ever gone.”
The victories were the first in the postseason for a SWAC school – or a Division I HBCU for that matter – since 1984 when Alcorn State beat Houston Baptist in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“When you beat two stable and winning teams over the years, that has to be a big deal,” says SWAC and NABC Hall of Famer Davey Whitney, coach at Alcorn State when the Braves in 1979 became the first HBCU to win a game in the NIT and the following year became the first to win an NCAA tournament contest.
However, Whitney says Southern and Jackson State have been slighted over the years in terms of being recognized for they were able to accomplish.
“Everybody was happy that they won, but the media didn’t do it justice,” he says. “I really don’t know why. It was a tremendous upset.”
Whitney says Jackson State and Southern were “opportunistic” and “solid” teams, and he wasn’t surprised that were able to break through.
Whitney was undoubtedly in an underwhelming minority, considering the reputations and track records of UConn and Georgia Tech. UConn boasted a roster that included five future NBA draft picks – Donyell Marshall, Donny Marshall, Scott Burrell, Kevin Ollie and Tate George.
Georgia Tech was fresh off beating North Carolina and Duke to win the ACC Tournament championship and featured point guard Travis Best and forwards Ivano Newbill and Malcolm Mackey, who went on to play in the NBA.
On that night, neither the Huskies nor the Yellow Jackets were a match for their unheralded opponents.
“I felt the NIT gave us to UConn as a present,” Stoglin says, hinting that NIT organizers, because of UConn’s proximity to New York, wanted the Huskies to have an easy path to the semifinals at Madison Square. “They knew they could bring a lot of people to New York.”
If that was the plan, someone should have told Lindsey Hunter. That year’s SWAC Player of the Year caught fire in the second half and burned UConn for 34 points after scoring just five in the first half. The Tigers, who sailed through their conference schedule with a 13-1 record before losing to Southern 101-80 in the SWAC Tournament final, built a 10-point lead in the second half against UConn. Donyell Marshall made three three-pointers down the stretch to send the game into overtime, but Hunter scored eight of the Tigers’ 10 points in the extra period to seal the win for Jackson State, which ended the year 25-9.
“That’s the thing about Lindsey,” says Andy Stoglin, Jackson State’s coach at the time. “At winning time, he steps up. The bigger the game, the better he played. When the game was on the line, that’s when he played his best. Put Lindsey in a setting with pro scouts, he’s going to raise up.”
Hunter’s performance against UConn helped convince the Detroit Pistons to pick him No. 10 overall in the 1993 NBA draft.
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