Area college hoop scoop: Crucial weekend for Grambling’s SWAC championship hopes

MAKING HIS MOVE:  Grambling guard Virshon Cotton attacks the basket last Saturday against Southern in the NBA HBCU Classic during All-Star Game Weekend in Salt Lake City. (Photo courtesy Grambling State University Athletics)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

The Grambling Tigers are one game back of Alcorn State with two weeks (four games) left in the Southwestern Athletic Conference men’s basketball race, and their hopes of winning the championship probably come down to this weekend’s Saturday-Monday games.

Grambling and Alcorn have had their only meeting, a 63-60 Alcorn win at Grambling on Jan. 30, in the league schedule. They’ll probably be the top two seeds in the March 8-11 SWAC Tournament. But for Grambling to share the SWAC regular-season championship, the Tigers need help and there’s not a lot of reason to expect it.

This weekend is the best hope. Alcorn (12-2 in league play) meets two middle-of-the-pack foes, Prairie View and Texas Southern (both 7-8), on its homecourt. The last week sends the Braves to two bottom-feeders, UAPB and Mississippi Valley.

Grambling cleared its toughest remaining hurdle last Saturday with its 69-64 overtime win over third-place Southern in the NBA’s HBCU Classic during All-Star Game weekend in Salt Lake City.

The Tigers visit also-rans Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman this weekend, then finish at home against Alabama A&M (at 8-7 in the SWAC, the only foe above .500 left for Grambling) and Alabama State next week. 


GRAMBLING:  Along with national TV exposure on TNT and ESPN2 for the NBA HBCU Classic, the Tigers (18-8, 11-3) collected a $100,000 donation from AT&T toward “academics, athletics and wellness services,” a press release said. Grambling and NBA legend Willis Reed served as honorary captain for both teams. The Tigers are up to No. 4 nationally in field goal percentage defense (38.5 percent allowed), topped only by Tennessee, Houston and Alabama. 

Next games: Saturday at FAMU, Monday night at Bethune-Cookman. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Demons (19-9, 11-4) were upset by New Orleans at home Saturday 68-65, ending a nine-game win streak, but can still claim at least a share of the Southland title by sweeping their three remaining games, notably Saturday night’s visit to first-place Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Two wins guarantees NSU the valuable double-bye into the semifinal round of the conference tournament. Impressive stat: point guard DeMarcus Sharp has drained 60 percent (28-47) on 3-pointers while averaging 18.2 points per game. Three teammates have tried at least twice as many treys. 

Next games:  Tonight at Incarnate Word, Saturday at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

LOUISIANA TECH:  The sudden departure of leading scorer Cobe Williams (18.8 per game) for “personal reasons” with (then) only six games left in the season raised eyebrows last week, and left the Bulldogs with only 11 players. It’s been a frustrating run for first-year head coach Talvin Hester, whose team needs to win three of its last four to avoid Tech’s first losing record in 13 seasons. Tough assignment: the Bulldogs (13-14, 6-10) meet three teams ahead of them in the CUSA standings, including league leader Florida Atlantic and fourth-place Middle Tennessee. If you were curious: this season’s been much rougher on last year’s Tech coach, Eric Konkol, whose first Tulsa team is 5-22. 

Next games: Thursday at Western Kentucky, Saturday at MTSU. 


LOUISIANA TECH: Riding a season-long four-game win streak, the Lady Techsters (16-10, 9-7) are in a fourth-place tie in the 10-team Conference USA standings.  Senior guard Keiunna Walker earned her second C-USA Player of the Week award, posting her second career double-double with 27 points and 14 rebounds with five assists and four drawn charges in a double overtime 83-79 triumph at Charlotte. Walker sits at No. 9 in all-time scoring with 1,860 points. She has reached double figures in 24 of 26 games, including 20 straight. Her 17.6 PPG is No. 2 in C-USA. 

Next games: At home this week, playing uphill against the top two teams in CUSA, Thursday at 6 vs. Western Kentucky (14-11, 11-5), then Saturday at 1 against Middle Tennessee (22-4, 15-2). They’ll be on the road next week at two teams (FIU, Florida Atlantic) under .500 in league play to wrap up the regular season. 

NORTHWESTERN STATE:  The Lady Demons (11-14, 7-8) have two matchups with their closest Southland Conference competition, Incarnate Word (12-15, 7-8), the first tonight in San Antonio. NSU is 1-11 on the road, and UIW is 9-4 at home. With the other remaining game at second-place Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Saturday, NSU could tumble into danger of not being one of the eight conference tournament qualifiers if it ends on a three-game skid. 

Next games: Tonight at UIW, Saturday at A&M-CC (16-10, 11-4). 

GRAMBLING: The Lady Tigers (7-18, 6-8) are tied for the last qualifying slot (eighth) for the SWAC Tournament. They’re still shooting poorly – 35 percent overall, 25 percent from distance. 

Next games: Grambling needs to win on the road Saturday at Florida A&M (5-21, 3-12), then Monday at Bethune-Cookman (10-15, 9-6). The regular season finale is next Wednesday at home against Alabama A&M (13-12, 11-4). 

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