Grambling men are an emerging threat in the SWAC

Grambling’s regular-season records under second-year coach Bobby Washington Jr. haven’t been anything to write home about but you’ve got to give him credit for getting his team ready come March.

A year after shocking top-seeded Jackson State in the Southwestern Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament, Grambling (12-22) topped the Mississippi Tigers again to reach its first-ever conferrence title match over the weekend. The Tigers, winners of nine of 11 coming into the game against a similarly red-hot Alabama State, then got out to a 28-26 lead at the half before fading. Tremayne Moorer scored 14 points and Tramaine Butler added 13 for the Hornets (17-17) in the eventual 65-48 title-clinching victory on Saturday night in Garland, Texas. Alabama State captured the automatic berth in the NCAA tourney, their second since 2008-09.

But circle back to that Grambling game against Jackson State. After pushing the No. 2 seed to an overtime period, the Tigers forced three ties and four lead changes before finally taking a four-point lead at 79-74 with 12 seconds left to play. Then senior guard Donald Qualls, who would score a career-high 35 points on the night, added a pair of crucial free throws to win 81-75.

The Tigers didn’t have enough to clinch the program’s first SWAC championship of the tournament era. But they’re gaining important experience on the league’s biggest stage — and underscoring a new SWAC axiom: Watch out for Washington’s teams in March.

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