Jackson State falls short of historic win in NCAA tournament, but gains respect
The No. 14 seed Lady Tigers were looking for their first NCAA tournament win in team history
BATON ROUGE, La. — Sometimes respect is earned not just when you win but in how you lose.
Jackson State arrived at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge for its first-round NCAA tournament matchup against No. 3 seed LSU on Saturday wearing its navy blue #RiseTheeUnderdog warm-up shirts, looking for a win and a little respect. Respect for Jackson State, respect for the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), respect for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), who entered the day 0-3 in the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments this postseason, and respect for the culture.
After all, the Lady Tigers ( 23-7 ) had just won their second straight SWAC tournament title and were on a 21-game win streak. Yet, they only received a No. 14 seed for their efforts, a common theme for HBCUs, and were 15.5-point dogs in what was essentially a home game for LSU. No respect.
“We started saying, ‘RiseTheeUnderdog’ because it seemed like every game we were the underdog,” said JSU junior forward Miya Crump. “We were playing against Power 5s [and] everybody always looked to see the Power 5s blow us out. We didn’t get blown out once. We always fought back.”
Jackson State head coach Tomekia Reed, the SWAC Coach of the Year, seemed as if she wasn’t getting enough respect from the referees during the game against LSU after a series of no-calls and ticky-tack fouls against her team. The Lady Tigers trailed by 17 points when Reed received a technical foul with 8:44 left in the third quarter. That sparked a 44-17 run by Jackson State, which led LSU by 10 points with just under five minutes to play. After nearly 90 minutes of cheers from the raucous, purple and gold pro-LSU crowd, it fell silent.
“That tech Coach Reed got fueled us because Coach Reed always got our back,” said Crump, who scored a team-high 21 points. “So when she caught the tech, we [had] to have her back and step up because she can’t say much. So we got to go play ball.”
Added Reed: “It’s very unfortunate, as a head coach, when you can’t talk to officials. You know, you want to be able to softly speak and be able to communicate. But when you cut off those lines of communication, especially for a team like us, that’s when that’s a problem. And that’s what I saw. Early on, I tried to communicate. It wasn’t there and I said, ‘You know what. Let me just go ahead and get it [the technical], because if I don’t get it, it’s going to continue.’ So, I’m glad he called it.”
Jackson State led LSU 74-64 late in the fourth quarter, just four minutes away from making history. The Lady Tigers were on the verge of earning the program’s first NCAA tournament win, being the first women’s team in the SWAC to win an NCAA tournament game, and becoming the first No. 14 seed in NCAA women’s tournament history to defeat a No. 3 seed.
But then, LSU responded with a run of its own, outscoring Jackson State 19-3 in the final four minutes to beat the Lady Tigers 83-77. The underdogs fell short.
“Yes, we faced a very good team today,” said Reed. “A very well-coached team. Yes, we came out with a game plan. Yes, we missed free throws. Yes, we made mistakes. But there was still some other things that played in on that and the world saw it. So for our institution, for our team, for our fight, we’re going to continue to knock until we knock those doors down.”
Still, even with the loss, Jackson State represented well for the four HBCUs in the Big Dance. The Lady Tigers’ No. 14 seed was the highest of all HBCUs, with the other three schools all receiving No. 16 seeds. Howard’s women’s team was blown out by No. 1 seed South Carolina 79-21 on Friday, and on the men’s side, Norfolk State lost to No. 1 seed Baylor 85-49, and Texas Southern was defeated by No. 1 seed Kansas 83-56.
When the final buzzer sounded, LSU head coach Kim Mulkey crouched down to her knees from exhaustion. “I’m worn out,” she said. “That was a heck of a ballgame. I don’t think anybody turned the TV off. I don’t think any fan for either team left. It’s over, that’s all I was thinking.” LSU senior point guard Khayla Pointer, who had 26 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals, could only gasp for air while heading to the locker room, repeatedly saying, “Oh, my God!”
After the loss, Reed was shown plenty of respect for her team’s performance. Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders, whose daughter Shelomi will be a freshman on Reed’s team next season, took to social media to congratulate JSU.
“Coach Reed and her ladies continuously prove that they’re well-coached and can play this game with anyone,” Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders said to Andscape from his hotel in Naples, Florida, after the game. “Although they came up short in the end, they won in the eyes of many.”
Reed also received praise from Mulkey, who won three national championships while she was the head coach at Baylor.
“I told her that I got a dose of her team last year when I was at Baylor and how much I respect the job she’s done,” said Mulkey in the postgame news conference. “I told her that she’s a heck of a coach and that her kids played their hearts out. I said, ‘You ain’t going to be at Jackson State long if they don’t pay ya.’ I’m not her agent, I’m not her best friend. I just know talent, and I respect people from afar on a job well done.”
Looking ahead to next season, three seniors on the team will graduate in May: SWAC Player of the Year and SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Ameshya Williams-Holliday, who had 15 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks in the game; Dayzsha Rogan, the 2021 SWAC Player of the Year, who had 9 points and 4 assists; and starting forward LaMiracle Sims, who had 4 points and 6 rebounds. Still, with Reed’s strong history of recruiting and building off her team’s success, Jackson State athletic director Ashley Robinson knows this season isn’t a one-off and expects the program to continue to improve.
“I’m very proud of them,” said Robinson. “They did a very good job and it really represented HBCUs [and] represented Jackson State University in a great manner. [Next season] we’re expecting at least an 11 or 12 seed. We’re expecting to win a first-round game. We’re expecting to continue to build on this tradition and blaze new trails at Jackson State University.”
Reed will return two starters in Crump and Keshuna Luckett, as well as guard Ti’lan Boler and forward Daja Woodard, who played significant minutes for the Lady Tigers this season. Houston transfer Daphane White, a former ESPN five-star recruit, was ineligible to play this season but will likely fill the void left by the graduating Williams-Holliday. Reed will also have USC transfer Angel Jackson next season, another former five-star.
For some, Jackson State’s close loss was a moral victory. For the Lady Tigers, a loss is still a loss. Not to mention losing in the first round for the second straight year (to the same coach, nonetheless).
“I mean you take comfort in [the close loss],” said Crump. “Everyone is saying how proud they are of us, but the job’s not done and the goal [to beat a Power 5 school] ain’t fulfilled. We didn’t meet it yet.”
Added Reed: “We have to continue to fight for our institution, for our conference, for our culture. We have to continue to knock on walls to get respect.”
The Lady Tigers earned plenty of it Saturday, even if they didn’t quite make history.