Tigers Highlights

NCAA Division: Division I
Conference: Ohio Valley Conference
Past Conferences: None
City: Nashville, Tennessee

Arena: Gentry Complex
NCAA Tournaments: 2 (1993, 1994)
National Championships – 0
Conference Titles – 2 (1993, 1995)

Team History


Tennessee State began its basketball program in the 1944-45 season under coach Henry A. Kean. It didn’t take the Tigers long to become a basketball powerhouse. After going 9-10 in its first season, Tennessee State went 73-8 over the next four seasons. Kean was replaced in 1949-50 by Shelton A. Mathews but returned the following season, only to see the team go 6-8, and Clarence Cash took over in 1951-52. The Tigers returned to their winning ways, going 19-4.

Tennessee State went 22-4 in 1952-53, earning a trip to the NAIA Tournament, and becoming the first Black college to compete in a national championship tournament. The Tigers advanced to the quarterfinals before losing. Tennessee State returned to the NAIA Tournament in 1954 but lost in the first round. Cash was replaced by John B. McLendon for the 1954-55 season and the Tigers were 29-4 but didn’t compete in the postseason. In 1956-57, Tennessee State posted a 26-4 record and would go on to capture the NAIA Tournament. The Tigers became the first historically-Black college to win a national basketball championship.

First to Three-Peat

The Tigers were far from being finished, however, as Tennessee State would repeat in 1958 and 1959, becoming the first college basketball program to “three-peat.” The three championship teams were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.

Tennessee State’s bid for a fourth straight NAIA championship came to an end at the hands of Westminster (PA), which decided to slow the game down, as there was no shot clock at the time. The Titans pulled off the 39-38 upset. The Tigers made the move to Division II and reached the NCAA Division II Tournament in 1967. Following a couple of seasons with no postseason berth, Tennessee State advanced to the Division II Tournament six straight years, between 1970-1975, reaching the championship game twice but falling short each time.

The Tigers made the jump to Division I for the 1977-78 season, playing as an independent. Tennessee State joined the Ohio Valley Conference for the 1986-87 season. After a few fair seasons, the Tigers hit a low point, going a combined 20-91 between 1988-1992, but Tennessee State rounded with its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 1993 and made a return trip in 1994. Still, they fell in the first round both times.

Tennessee State received invitations to the CIT in 2012, 2013 and 2016, but lost their first game in all three years. The Tigers accepted a bid to compete in the 2020 CIT, but the tournament was later canceled due to COVID-19.

Tennessee State Tigers All-Time Records

Points Scored
Dick Barnett, 3,209
Ted McClain, 2,309
Leonard Robinson, 2,249

Lloyd Neal, 1,667
Dick Barnett, 1,571
Leonard Robinson, 1,501

Patrick Miller, 520
Tremaine Smith, 451
Reiley Ervin, 446



How many Tennessee State players played in the NBA?

The Tigers have had 15 players play in a regular season NBA game. The two most successful players in terms of scoring were Dick Barnett (15.8 ppg) and Truck Robinson (15.5 ppg.) Robinson had the highest rebounding average at 9.41 rebounds per game, and Anthony Mason had the highest assist average at 3.36 per game.

How many Tennessee State players were drafted in the first round of the NBA draft?

The Tigers have had four players taken in the first round of the draft, beginning with Dick Barnett, who was selected No. 4 overall by Syracuse in 1959. Dave Lattin was selected in the first round by Golden State in 1967 at No. 10 overall, and Monti Davis was nabbed at No. 21 overall by Philadelphia in 1980. Carlos Rogers, who was selected No. 11 overall in the 1994 draft by Seattle, was the last.

Has Tennessee State retired any basketball jerseys?

The Tigers have retired just one number, the No. 35 of Dick Barnett, who led the team to their three consecutive NAIA championships. Barnett wore No. 12 for his nine seasons with the New York Knicks and that number has also been retired.

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