Believe in the Tigers
How much longer can OVC fans discount the success of Tennessee State?
When they were 6-2 after slipping by Grambling and demolishing Stetson it was fair to doubt. Two of those first half dozen wins were against D2 programs. Considering the annual travails of the Tennessee State basketball program a healthy skepticism could easily overpower that start.
And the shootout wins @Stetson and against Lipscomb were entertaining, but hardly reputation-builders. When conference play began the TSU Tigers were 9-4 (7-4 against D1) and losers of the last two to Illinois State and a rebuilding Tennessee. Despite, or perhaps in response to, an ovcball.net feature entitled “Paper Tigers“, the TSU men still felt wildly disrespected.
They were not satisfied with the murmurs that they were not for real. Any of those doubters have to now be silenced by the OVC-best 5-0 start. Right?
Tennessee State has now defeated Southeast Missouri, Eastern Illinois, SIUE, Austin Peay, and Murray State in succession. The last three were home games at the Gentry Center in northwest Nashville.
This Tennessee State basketball team earned the right to be noticed and finally somebody, anybody did. This week the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Poll ranked Tennessee State 24th.
The voting panel includes coaches like Lipscomb Head Coach Casey Alexander and EIU Head Coach Jay Spoonhour.
Will Tennessee State chase Murray State’s perfect 16-0 conference performance from a year ago? No. They will lose in the OVC, but to win five straight OVC games is impressive for any program. For Tennessee State Men’s Basketball to win 5 straight in conference is earth-shattering.
“We had a lot of turnover last year and guys that were inexperienced at the division one level,” said Tennessee State Head Coach Dana Ford. “We never felt like we would be this far along in year two, but we thought we would be better. We didn’t know we would make this jump.”
Until Saturday there are only two undefeated teams in OVC play. When Belmont (5-0) hosts TSU (5-0) one egg-shaped zero will be shattered. Last year, while watching Coach Ford struggle to implement his system to a team full of unprovens and unwanted guys, would have been unimaginable.
“These kids have really just gotten it done a lot of times this year,” said Coach Ford. “Because when you look at the numbers it just doesn’t add up, but you look at the final score and we just found a way to win.”
Even Coach Ford is having a difficult time explaining the exact recipe for this unexpected success.
Saturday Tennessee State traipses in to the Curb Events Center to try knocking Belmont from their perch as OVC-favorites. The challenge is mighty, but Tennessee State could win.
Previously unimaginable. But it takes no imagination now.
It only requires respect.