A pair of No. 16 seeds meet for the right to advance and play the top overall seed when Southeast Missouri takes on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday at Dayton, Ohio.
The winner will advance to the South Regional in Birmingham, Ala., to play No. 1 Alabama on Thursday.
Southeast Missouri (19-16), winner of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, is playing Southland Conference champion Texas A&M-CC (23-10) for the first time.
Fifth-seeded SEMO beat No. 8 Lindenwood and No. 4 Tennessee State before stunning the OVC’s top two seeds, No. 1 Morehead State and No. 2 Tennessee Tech, to earn an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time since 2000. It’s the second in program history.
“I was told a long time ago (to) surround yourself with great people,” said SEMO head coach Brad Korn, who played in the NCAA Tournament for Southern Illinois under head coach Bruce Weber. “You’d be amazed on how far they can take you and I don’t take anything for granted. As a player, you just do what the coach says. And we had a great run there.
“And now looking back on to be able to lead a team like this to the NCAA tournament the first time in 23 years is really a lot of what I learned from Coach Weber and those guys and the way they treated us in the way that our program was ran.”
SEMO is led by Phillip Russell, who was an All-OVC and All-Tournament Team selection. He just went over 1,000 career points and averages 18.2 points per game on the season. Chris Harris is also a contributor with 15.4 points per outing and was named to the All-Conference second team.
The Redhawks last made the NCAA Tournament in 2000, losing as a No. 13 seed to No. 4 LSU.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will try to atone for last year’s disappointment in the same situation when it led Texas Southern, 61-59, with 6:04 remaining, only to have the Tigers rally for a 76-67 victory.
The Islanders have won 12 of their last 13 games, capturing back-to-back Southland tournament titles and this season’s regular season championship outright.
A&M-Corpus Christi seniors Jalen Jackson and Trevian Tennyson both averaged 15.0 points per game in their two games of the Southland Tournament. Jackson stepped in for All-Conference first-team selection and defensive player of the year Terrion Murdix, who left with a knee injury just three minutes into the championship game win over Northwestern State.
“I thought that our guys rebounded well after a while and we had an initial shock where I don’t think that we knew what to do, or how to adapt,” Islanders head coach Steve Lutz said.
The Islanders were down 16 points before rallying to tie the championship game at the half.
“Luckily for us, Jalen took over the game, and that’s why he obviously is MVP of the game, but I just couldn’t be more proud of the fight our guys showed. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort.”
Tennyson leads Corpus Christi in scoring with 15.7 points per game.
–Field Level Media