JACKSONVILLE, Ala.- Jacksonville State had grown accustomed to the off-season starting in March. Selection Sunday was spent at home, on the couch, as 68 other teams around the country celebrated. This year things have changed. Under first year head coach Ray Harper, the Gamecocks have redefined what March means. This year, there are no days off as they prepare for the program's first trip to the NCAA tournament.
"We did something that hadn't been done in school history," said junior forward/center Norbertas Giga.
From the outside looking in, no one expected history to unfold this season. Coming off an 8-23 campaign andwith a new leader at the helm, the Gamecocks were picked to finish dead last in the Ohio Valley Conference. But if you ask Harper, he saw something special early on.
"We opened the season with a 10 or 12 point win at Tulsa, a team that was in the NCAA tournament last year," said Harper. "So I think that gave the kids some confidence from the beginning."
The Gamecocks went on to make their conference tournament for the first time since 2012 but it didn't stop there. They made a run--knocking off the top two seeds to punch a ticket to the big dance.
"Coach always tells us to play with a chip on our shoulder," junior guard Malcolm Drumwright admits. "They picked us last so nobody believes in you. But we believe in us to that's all that matters."
The Gamecocks have embraced the underdog roll all season and once again, the odds are stacked against them. They're a No. 15 seed set to face two-seeded Louisville in the first round at 1:45 p.m. on Friday in Indianapolis.
"At this time of year it's are you playing well and are you playing confident?" Harper explains. "I can assure you we're confident. We'll see how well we're playing."
A Division II championship banner from 1985 already hangs on the wall inside Pete Mathews Coliseum. Adding another one may be a long shot but hey, it is March...and anything can happen.