Texas A&M-Corpus Christi holds off SE Missouri State 75-71 in First Four

Mar 8, 2023; Lake Charles, LA, USA; Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders head coach Steve Lutz gives instructions against the Northwestern State Demons during the Southland Basketball Championships in Lake Charles, LA. Mandatory Credit: Scott Clause-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi holds off SE Missouri State 75-71 in First Four

No. 16-seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 75, No. 16-seed Southeast Missouri State 71 

No. 16-seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi held off No. 16-seed Southeast Missouri State 75-71 in Tuesday night’s First Four matchup in Dayton, Ohio for the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. With the win, the Islanders advance to the Round of 64, where they’ll take on the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, Alabama, Thursday in Birmingham, Ala.

The Islanders, champions of the Southland Conference, took advantage of the Ohio Valley Conference champion Redhawks’ struggles at the free throw line. Southeast Missouri State finished the night just 9-of-20 from the line, while Texas A&M-Corpus Christi made 27-of-35.

Southeast Missouri State set a First Four record with 31 fouls committed and saw three players foul out of the game. Jalen Jackson led four Islanders in double-figures with 22 points, while Chris Harris scored 23 for SEMO before fouling out.

Corpus Christi started the game hot, jumping out to a 6-0 lead and maintaining an advantage throughout the first 20 minutes. The Islanders led by as many as eight in the first half, mostly because of their dominance in the paint. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi led 22-12 in the first half on points scored in the paint and out-rebounded SEMO 24-15 before the break.

Steve Lutz’s team went into halftime with a 33-27 lead that felt like it could have been bigger. Corpus Christi made just one of six 3-point attempts in the opening half and 41.9% of its field goals overall. Isaac Mushila led the way with nine points for the Islanders, while De’Lazarus Smith added seven points and seven rebounds.

Tensions were high early in the second half, as players from each side had to be separated after Key was called for a foul and bumped SEMO’s Phillip Russell after the whistle. The game was particularly physical throughout the second half, with the Islanders reaching the double bonus with still more than 11 minutes on the clock.

Southeast Missouri State pulled within a bucket on multiple occasions in the early portion of the second half, but Texas A&M-Corpus Christi always had answers. The Islanders built their first double-digit lead with just over nine minutes remaining, 53-43. 

As expected from a team facing elimination, the Redhawks did not stop fighting. Chris Harris drilled a 3-pointer with just under five minutes left, capping off an 18-9 run for SEMO to make it 62-61. After two free throws by Harris with 3:07 remaining, SEMO tied Corpus Christi at 64.

As Nate Johnson, Aquan Johnson, and Chris Harris all fouled out for the Redhawks in the final minutes, Corpus Christi made enough free throws to win by four as SEMO fought until the bitter end.  

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi covered as a three-point favorite, and the game stayed comfortably under the total, which was set at 158.5.

The Islanders will take on No. 1-seed Alabama on Thursday at 1:45 p.m. CT in Birmingham, Ala.

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