Men's Basketball Preview: Alcorn State

Oct. 28, 2016

The Yellow Jackets return home after a three-game road trip to host Alcorn State at McCamish Pavilion, the third game in the series and the first since 1989.

Location: Lorman, Miss.
Conference: Southwestern Athletic (SWAC)
Home arena: Davey L. Whitney HPER Complex (7,000)
2015-16 Record: 15-15 overall, 13-5 in SWAC (2nd), 252nd in NCAA RPI
Post-Season: lost to Mississippi Valley St. in SWAC Quarterfinals, 64-61
NCAA Postseason Appearances: 6 (last in 2002)
All-time series record: Georgia Tech leads 2-0 (first meeting on 11/20/1987)
Head coach:Montez Robinson (entering 2nd season, 15-15)
Starters returning/lost: 1/4
Top scorer returning: Marquis Vance (7.9)
Top rebounder returning: Marquis Vance (5.2)

Quick preview for 2016-17

With the departure of four starters, it is no surprise that the preseason SWAC poll placed Alcorn State fifth after last season’s second-place finish. Second-year coach Montez Robinson does have one clearly defined ace in his hand with Marquis Vance. Vance, a preseason second-team all-conference selection, is the team’s top returning scorer and rebounder. Joining Vance in the frontcourt, senior DeAndré Davis adds valuable experience with last season’s fifteen starts. In the backcourt, Alcorn State welcomes Bethune-Cookman transfer Denzel Dulin into the fold after a year on the bench. By the time Alcorn State arrives on the Flats it will be their fifth straight road game across four different states with the first three coming in Colorado, California and Louisiana.

Quick recap of 2015-16

Alcorn State’s 2015-16 season began unceremoniously with seven consecutive losses before a win in their home opener. After breaking the seal, the Braves ambled into a 3-11 record at the season’s midway point. It was at that moment that Coach Robinson’s maiden voyage found its tailwind. Alcorn State won 10 of its next 11 contests including a pair of five game-winning streaks (the Braves’ longest since 2005). Seniors Octavius Brown and Tamarico Wilson led the charge averaging 13.0 points and 12.4 points per game respectively by season’s end. Wilson earned second team all-conference honors for his efforts. Alcorn State’s 13-5 conference record was rewarded with a second place finish and a first-round bye in the SWAC tournament. The advantage was short-lived as Mississippi Valley State, a team the Braves had downed twice in the regular season, eliminated Alcorn State in its tournament opener.

Greatest Program Accomplishment

1978-79 Undefeated Regular Season – There have been several iconic “Unbeatens” in the history of college basketball: 1956 San Francisco, 1957 North Carolina, 1976 Indiana or any of Jon Wooden’s four undefeated UCLA teams. Many others have reached the NCAA tournament with a sparkling resume only to taste defeat for the first time on the biggest stage (see 1979 Indiana State, 1991 UNLV or 2015 Kentucky). But only one team has run the table in the regular season and not received an invitation to the Big Dance: the 1979 Alcorn State Braves.

At 27-0, the Braves were the undisputed SWAC champions, but because much of the conference had just recently begun Division I competition, the SWAC didn’t have an automatic bid. Not to mention, Alcorn State wasn’t even eligible to compete in the 32-team field, because it hadn’t yet met other NCAA requirements in its Division I transition.

Instead Alcorn State received an invitation to the NIT. Although it may not have been an opportunity to compete for a national title, it didn’t take long for the small school from Mississippi to get fired up for its first-round opponent, Mississippi State. In hostile Starkville, the Braves downed their Magnolia State big brother, 80-78, to secure the first-ever NIT victory for a historically black college. In the next round, Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers blotted Alcorn State’s final record with a 72-68 victory. Following Indiana’s NIT championship, Knight claimed that their win over the Braves was “the toughest of the tournament.”

Greatest player in program history

Larry Smith (1976-80) – Larry Smith and Alcorn State basketball wouldn’t be what they are today without each other. Smith, a two-time SWAC Player of the Year selection, scored more than 1,800 points and snatched over 1,200 rebounds in his four-year career. Smith led Alcorn State to its magical 28-1 season in 1978-79, only to follow it with an even more impressive encore. In his senior season, the 6-foot-8 center averaged 20.1 points per game and a national-best 15.1 rebounds per game. Mr. Mean, a nickname derived from his on-the-floor intensity, keyed Alcorn State’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win over South Alabama. The win was the first-ever NCAA Tournament victory for a historically black college.

Only a couple months later, the Golden State Warriors selected Smith 24th overall in the 1980 NBA Draft. Smith impressed in his first professional season netting 9.6 points per game and 12.1 rebounds per game. Smith was named to the All-Rookie team in 1981 and thirteen years later concluded his career third all-time in Golden State history with 6,440 rebounds.

Today, Smith serves as the director of athletic development at Alcorn State after spending three seasons as the school’s head basketball coach. Just this past July, Smith became the first Alcorn State basketball player to be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

Place to visit on campus or in the city

Rodney, Mississippi – One of the state’s most thriving towns during the 19th century, Rodney, Mississippi, a modern day “ghost town”, rests just 20 minutes west of Alcorn State’s campus in Lorman. Rodney’s demise began with the Civil War’s insatiable demand for resources including the town’s livestock, crops and water. A city-wide fire and the re-routing of the Mississippi River spelled the end for Rodney by the 1890’s. Rodney lost its status as an official town in 1930, and its official population fell below 100 only a couple years later.

Today, Rodney is nearly completely deserted although many of its buildings still stand. The only serviceable road in and out of Rodney is highway M-558 which dead-ends into the town’s remains. The town is also home to the infamous Windsor Ruins which appeared in the films Raintree County (1957) and Ghosts of Mississippi (1996).

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