NAIA: Black College champions

The Tennessee A&I (State) Tigers led by Clarence Cash became the team to beat if you wanted to ‘play-out ‘ of the newly organized District-at-Large 29, created especially for the all-black college teams who wanted in to the national arena.  They were not not without competition though. Texas Southern University under Alex Durley became their early rival for the one spot they were granted. As they picked up momentum, they began to capture titles at a regular pace until the insurgent presence of the National Intercollegiate Athletic Association who began to usurp the older, sanctioning body. 


Texas Southern, led by head coach Alex Durley was the first Black college team on the floor in 1951. Tennessee A&I was the first black college team to advance beyond the first round in 1953. They started off a little nervous but shifted gears in holding off Geneva College, 98-88 and routing St. Benedict, 79-56 before losing to East Texas State, 72-67 in the third round.

Tennessee State Tigers: the first team to win three consecutive NAIA championships


Tennessee State made it back to the tournament and lost in the first round to Regis College, CO, 61-58.


Texas Southern University finally broke through the district deadlock and showed their high powered offense, romping over Adrian University, MI, 102-83. They lost the second round game to Gustavus Adolph, 67-55


Both Tigers teams- Tennessee A&I and Texas Southern – made it into the NAIA tourney. Tennessee A&I swept Indiana Central, 86-63; Wis-Eau Claire, 61-62 and fell to eventual champion, McNeese State, 76-68.  Texas Southern defeated Hastings, Neb., 108-81; eked past Rockhurst, 64-61 over Rockhurst, 64-61 and Midwestern State, 85-82.
They lost to McNeese State, 60-55 in the finals.


No. 8 seed Texas Southern made their way to the third round before running out of gas against Pacific Lutheran (tourney runnerup), 91-72. Their two victories were against Southern Connecticut, 67-66 and Ball State, 97-72.
Unseeded Tennessee State started out routinely, downing Adrian, MI, 87-69; Portland State 87-70 and survived a stiff test against Western Illinois, 90-88. They met no. 1 seed Pacific Lutheran in the finals and came away with a 71-70 thriller to claim their first national championship title. 

Past Tournament Champions
1957    Tennessee State Tigers
1958    Tennessee State Tigers
1959    Tennessee State Tigers


This NAIA National Invitational Tournament would become the scene of another ground breaker. Again, Tennessee State(A&I) and Texas Southern made encore appearances and started their trek to the finals. TSU, led by All-Americans Dick Barnett and John Barnhill led the charge as they downed Northern Michigan, 113-45; Anderson 77-56 and 81-62 over East Texas State.
Unseeded Texas Southern, led by their star player Bennie Swain, beat Oklahoma Baptist, 79-68; Drury 91-61 and Coe College 98-78.  They met in the finals- the first time two Black college teams played for the national championship. TSU ran past Texas Southern, 110-85.  Barnett won his first of two Chuck Taylor Awards. Coach John B. McLendon, Jr. was awarded the Coach of the Year honors.


An unprecedented three Black college teams made it to the big dance. Grambling State and Kentucky State were first round victims; Lenoir Rhyne 88, no. 4 Grambling 81; Central Oklahoma 72, Kentucky State 65. The no. 1 Tennessee State Tigers were poised to defend their crown, and they did it in fast fashion: TSU 75, Nebraska Wesleyan 57; TSU 89, Youngstown State 80 and TSU131, Illinois Normal 74.  They defeated no. 3 Pacific Lutheran, 97-87 to capture their second straightchampionship. Again, Barnett was the tourney MVP/Chuck Taylor Award winner.

Tennessee State Tigers: the first team to win three consecutive NAIA championships


This tournament almost saw history being rewritten again.  Tennessee State came within a shot of becoming the first Black college team to win FOUR NAIA championships. The tournament- tested Tigers handled Midwestern State, 102-83…was challenged by West Virginia State, 84-79 and settled down against Wofford, 75-60 and prepared to meet no. 4 Westminster, PA  in the finals. The aptly named Titans took the ‘air out of the ball’…slowed the game down and played inspired defense against the high-scoring Tigers, who succumbed 39-38. It snapped their 18-game tournament winning streak.


Five Black college teams earned a berth in the tournament for the first time. Newcomer No. 9 Winston-Salem State defeated Westtminister, UT, 95-70 and got by unranked Black college power West Virginia State, 86-76, but got caught in Westmister’s slowdown tactics and lost a low-scoring game, 35-33. But it was Grambling State’s chance to roll and they did…107-85 over Linfield; 80-60 vs. Peru State and Anderson, 62-54. They met defensive-minded Westmister in the semi-finals and led by All-Americans Charles Hardnett, Willis Reed and Herschell West, they eked out the win, 45-44 and had a easier time in the finals as they romped over Georgetown, KY, 95-75 and won their first national title. Hardnett won the MVP/Chuck Taylor Award. Other contenders:  Savannah State lost their first round game, 80-60 to Redlands, CA…Maryland State lost their first round game, 89-74 to Central Connecticut

Grambling State, led by Willis Reed and MVP Charles Hardnett won the ’61 title


No 4. Winston-Salem State beat Indiana State, 83-71…lost to Southeastern Oklahoma, 69-49… Savannah State beat Pacific Lutheran, 84-75 and lost Arizona State, 95-91… a newcomer made their presence as no. 2 Prairie View A&M got a overtime opening win over Ashland, OR, 73-64 and that propelled the Panthers to big wins over Morris Harvey, 85-70 and Arizon State, 86-48.  They handled Westminster, 62-53 in the finals to win their first national title. All-American  center Zelmo Beatty was named MVP/Chuck Taylor Award… Beatty set a tournament record for Most rebounds in a tournament- 96.

Past Tournament Champions
1961 Grambling State Tigers
1962 Prairie View A&M Panthers
1968 Central State. Ohio Marauders


No. 1 Grambling: 76-59 v. Arkansas Tech; 56-45 v. Athens State; 79-70 v. Carson-Newman…lost to Pan American, 90-83 …unseeded Central State, Ohio lost to Oklahoma Baptist, 71-70.  Miles College, AL beat western Illinois, 84-81; lost to Western Carolina, 107-86.  West Virginia State lost to Augsburg College, MN, 67-57.
Grambling head coach Fred Hobdy named Coach of the Year


Unseeded Miles College lost to Mansfield State, 99-79
Grambling beat Quincy College, 75-72…lost St. Mary’s, 72-66
11. Kentucky State defeated Redlands, CA, 71-65…lost to Emporia State, 85-80


Central State, Ohio came into the tournament as the No. 1 seed and did not disappoint. The Maruaders jumped on Jacksonville, Fl, 78-57; cruised by Midwesternn State, 75-61, Augsburg, 66-57 and Fairmont State, 91-75. They manhandled Oklahoma Baptist, 85-51 to win their first national title.
Wilburn named Chuck Taylor MVP …Leading rebounder: 5 games, 90 total rebounds (18.0 average rebounds per game
Other contenders:
Maryland State lost to St. Benedict’s, 75-73…Albany State beat Transylvania, 74-57, lost to St. Benedict’s, 101-74…Southern-Baton Rouge defeated Indiana Tech, 94-77, 97-86 v. Eastern Montana, lost to Ouachita Baptist, 65-64…Lincoln, MO lost to Ouachita Baptist, 83-76…Winston-Salem beat St. Norbert College, 87-69, High Point, 78-62, lost to Oklahoma Baptist, 71-62

Ken Wilburn led Central State, Ohio to its first championship


No. 9 seed Norfolk State made the loudest noise at this tournament. The Spartans ran wild over Upper Iowa, 132-97 (A tourney record). They scored 103 vs. Athens State, 81. Meanwhile, no. 1 Central State, Ohio kept pace as they downed St. Thomas, MN, 92-69 and 72-68 vs. Lakeland. They met in the Elite Eight and the Spartans won a hard fought game, 88-76. They fell to Georgia Southern, 89-88 in the finals.
Norfolk State Tournament Records: Most team points; single-game132, Norfolk State (Va.) vs. Upper Iowa 97 Most team points; tournament521, Norfolk State (Va.), (104.2 avg.)
Other contenders: No. 3 Grambling beat Central Washington, 70-65, 95-86 vs. Carroll, 84-82 vs. Rockhurst; lost to Oklahoma Baptist, 84-82 in the semis.
No. 14 Bethune-Cookman lost to Carroll, 91-88.


Unseeded Alcorn State lost to Oklahoma Baptist, 55-52
Albany State lost to Central Michigan, 71-70


No. 3 Central State, Ohio beat Milikin, 81-64; Valdosata State 60-53 …stopped Central Washington, 66-47 and Westmnster 72-51 and had enough left to hold off Fairmont State, 51-48 to capture their second NAIA title.
Other contenders:
No. 13 Albany State lost to New Haven, CN, 69-68
No. 7 Alcorn State beat Henderson State, fell to 79-70 to Central Washington
Bishop College lost to Monmouth, 102-91


Maryland State set the tone as they beat Wartburg, 99-90, Wis-Stout, 85-80, Monmouth, 99-94 and Central Washington, 93-87. They lost to Eastern New Mexico, 99-76 in the finals.  Jake Fordwon the Chuck Taylor MVP.
No. 9 Elizabeth City beat Valdosta State, 86-78, Southwestern Oklahoma, 88-81, Washburn, 90-88…lost to Eastern New Mexico, 75-72 in the semis.
Jackson State lost to Gannon, PA, 81-58
Central State, Ohio lost to Monmouth, 63-59
Grambling lost to Asheville-Biltmore, 86-74
Leading scorerJake Ford, Maryland State; 5 games, 52 field goals, 52


The Kentucky State Thorobreds got going early, led by All-Americans Travis Grant and 7-0 center Elmore Smith, they teamed with guards Mike Bernard and William Graham to led the ‘Breds to wins over Illinois Wesleyan, 64-55 and Wis-Eau Claire, 73-65. They met Central State, Ohio in the Elite Eight and won, 66-56. They ran past Guilford, 108-90 to gain their first national championship.
Grant was the top scorer -27.4 average per game- and set three tournament records but did not win the MVP award. Smith was the top rebounder with 13 rebounds per game.

Kentucky State Thorobreds dominated the NAIA for three straight titles led by MVP Travis Grant and Elmore Smith.


Kentucky State was on a mission and head coach Lucious Mitchell had them focused. They scored 100 points in the opening game against St. Thomas, MN (100-66). They brushed past Central Washington, 73-59 and met Grambling in the Elite Eight. In a dogfight the whole game, the Thorobreds went to Grant and Smith. They prevailed, 93-81. The next foe- Elizabeth City– looked to be a worthy opponent, but the ‘Breds outlasted them down the stretch and won, 104-91. That set up a final with no. 6 Eastern Michigan. They took them out, 102-90 to win back to back titles…the first time since the Tennessee State Tigers won three straight.


The third time around started out the same for the Kentucky State Thorobreds. With the nation’s leading scorer and leading rebounder in Travis Grant and Elmore Smith…they had to be the favorites going into Kansas City. The ‘Breds blew out Minot State, ND, 118-68 and West Georgia, 112-83 before getting a good fight from St. Thomas, 66-57. Stephen F. Austin managed to keep them under a hundred, but lost, 87-82. Their toughest game was in the finals as Wisc-Eau Claire battled them but lost, 71-62. It gave the Thorobreds their third consecutive national championshiponly the second time in the history of college basketball at the time (UCLA has won seven straight, 1967-73)
Other contenders:
Elizabeth City lost to Ouachita Baptist…Xavier, LA beat Md-Eastern Shore, 102-80, lost to Westmont, 71-59.

Past Tournament Champions
1970    Kentucky State Thorobreds
1971    Kentucky State Thorobreds
1972    Kentucky State Thorobreds
1976    Coppin State Eagles
1977    Texas Southern Tigers


Xavier, LA beat: Marist, 81-65, Sam Hoston State, 67-60, lost to Md-Eastern Shore, 87-80
Md-Eastern Shore defeated Eastern Montana, 114-104, Ferris State, 95-90, Xavier, 87-80 and Slippery Rock, 113-82. They lost to Guilford in the finals, 99-96
Other contenders: South Carolina State beat Hastings, NE, 82-71, lost to Wisc-Green Bay, 72-55…Kentucky State lost to Valdosta State, 90-81…Alcorn A&M lost to Oklahoma Baptist, 79-76


Alcorn State made their presence felt as they romped over Central Washington, 93-55 in the opener and held off Missouri Western, 80-72. They sprinted to a 107-102 win over Hanover and beat St. Mary’s, 76-71 to set up a meeting with upstart West Georgia. Head coach Dave Whitney’sBraves prevailed 97-79 to capture their first national title.  Kentucky State had a run that included wins over Erskine, 82-69; Hastings 75-57; Midwestern State 80-74 before falling to West Georgia, 79-75.


Kentucky State fell to Malone, OH 85-77 in the first round
Alcorn State was primed for a repeat as they defeated Central State, Ohio 88-77; Edinboro State 85-77; Malone 101-87


The 39th edition of the NAIA National Invitational Tournament had another newcomer to contend with. The Coppin State Eagles led by head coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell, downed Dowling College, NY 78-55 and Wisc-Parkside 68-67. They ran into perennial Texas Southern and overpowered them 88-77. They eked past Marymount 82-81 and showed poise under pressure as they defeated Henderson State 96-91 to win their first national title.


The 40th annual NAIA tournament would be the last time a Black college team would win a NAIA national championship. Texas Southern won an opener over Central State, Ohio 89-65 and downed Wisc-Parkside 82-80. They handled East Texas State 87-68 and subdued Grand Valley State 69-62. In the finals, the Tigers overwhelmed Campbell College 71-44 and won their first title since their first appearance in 1955.
Other contenders: Central State, Ohio lost to Texas Southern, 89-65…Paine College lost to Wisc-Parkside 112-65…Kentucky State lost to Ala-Huntsville, 72-63…Alcorn State beat Mt. Marty, 90-54; Ala-Huntsville, 76-75; lost to Campbell, 77-63…St. Augustine’s lost to Ill. Wesleyan, 87-67.