Formerly disgraced LSU coach Will Wade is returning to the NCAA Tournament as the coach of McNeese after leading a remarkable first-year turnaround for a long-suffering program. The Cowboys clinched their spot in the Big Dance on Wednesday with a 92-76 win over Nicholls State in the Southland Conference Tournament title game.

The victory brought McNeese's record to 30-3 after it limped through 11 consecutive losing seasons prior to Wade's arrival. 

"Just a tremendous day for our guys, our program, everybody involved in Lake Charles and at McNeese," Wade said. "So happy for everybody. Today, we tied the largest turnaround in college basketball history. We turned this thing around 19 games, these guys did. It's incredible."

Wade sat out of coaching in 2022-23 and was suspended for the first 10 games of this season as he began his McNeese tenure with the cloud of his LSU days still lingering overhead. Despite the alleged recruiting violations that led LSU to fire Wade at the end of the 2021-22 season, McNeese eagerly jumped at the chance to hire him, and the move paid immediate dividends.

Led by TCU transfer Shahada Wells, the Cowboys upset VCU and Michigan on the road in nonconference play and rolled through the Southland with a 17-1 record. Still, McNeese's NCAA Tournament fate hung on the outcome of Wednesday's game.

"I put so much pressure on myself this week, just because I wanted these guys and this community and everybody to experience this," Wade said. "This is going to be incredible on Sunday when you look up there and see McNeese State called. It's going to be incredible. For everybody to get a chance to be a part of that, it means everything to me."

McNeese entered Wednesday's action projected as a No. 13 seed in Jerry Palm's NCAA Tournament Bracketology. The Cowboys last played in the Big Dance in 2002 but will be a Cinderella candidate. The Cowboys ranked 10th nationally in 3-point shooting percentage at 38.3% entering the day and third nationally in steals at 10.5 per contest.

"We're excited and we're going to enjoy it the next couple days," Wade said. "I think we've got a good team, and we're looking forward to Selection Sunday. We'll see what happens from there."