Isaac Mushila had 15 points and 12 rebounds as Texas A&M-Corpus Christi held off Southeast Missouri State 75-71 on Tuesday night to earn the first NCAA Tournament win in program history.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi went 3 of 4 at the free-throw line in the final 15 seconds to ice the game and advance to play top-seeded Alabama in the South Region.
“To find a way to win, I couldn’t be more excited and more proud for those guys, obviously for the city, for the university and all of the Islander fans that are across the country watching this game,” Texas A&M-Corpus Christi coach Steve Lutz said. “They’ve got to be pretty excited.”
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The 16th-seeded Islanders (24-10), winners of the Southland Conference, returned to the First Four for a second straight season and led for all but 23 seconds.
Southeast Missouri State (19-17) erased a 10-point deficit in the opening game of this NCAA Tournament and tied it at 64 when Chris Harris made both free throws with 3:07 left.
Trevian Tennyson scooped in a layup off the glass to give Texas A&M-Corpus Christi a 72-69 lead with 22 seconds left, but Phillip Russell drove for a layup on the other end to bring the Redhawks within one.
Jalen Jackson made two foul shots with 14 seconds remaining to extend the lead to 74-71, and Russell came up short on a good look at a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds to go.
Mushila grabbed the rebound and sank one of two free throws for the final margin.
Jackson led the Islanders with 22 points, going 14 of 18 at the free-throw line. Ross Williams added 13 points, Tennyson scored 12 and De’Lazarus Keys pulled down 10 rebounds.
“It’s a surreal moment,” Jackson said. “We were in this position last year, but on the other side.”
Harris scored 23 points before fouling out for No. 16 seed Southeast Missouri State, the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament champion. The Redhawks went 9 of 20 at the free-throw line and shot 47% from the field.
“That’s all these guys have done all season long is continue to fight and to claw and make timely shots and make big plays and get defensive stops, put yourself right back in position to maybe take the game,” Southeast Missouri State coach Brad Korn said. “Free throws and rebounding cost us that opportunity.”
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Lutz is no stranger to the March Madness spotlight.
The former Purdue assistant took the Islanders to their second NCAA Tournament last season, losing on the same floor where they won Tuesday. Lutz spent four seasons with the Boilermakers, and they reached the postseason every year — including an appearance in the Elite Eight.
This time around, Lutz wanted to make sure his squad learned from the past.
“A little bit of it is you also want to make sure that your guys embrace the moment, but don’t think the moment is too big,” Lutz said. “It’s still another basketball game and we’re playing a team that’s a good team. So as long as we can get back on track, I felt like we would be fine.”
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s leading scorer had four points and went 1 of 4 in the first half.
But in the second, Jackson scored 18 points and stepped up in crunch time by going 12 of 14 at the free-throw line.
Jackson scored seven of the final 11 points for the Islanders, all after Southeast Missouri State tied the game at 64.
“Just staying together. Basketball is a game of runs,” Jackson said. “We knew at some point they were going to make a run, so we just had to stay together.”
Southeast Missouri State: Foul trouble plagued the Redhawks in their second NCAA Tournament appearance. They were whistled 31 times, which helped Texas A&M-Corpus Christi go 27 of 35 at the line.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi: The absence of Terrion Murdix, the team leader in assists and steals, will challenge the Islanders. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi had 14 turnovers, its most in six games.
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Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will play No. 1 overall seed Alabama on Thursday.
“Our guys are battle tested. They’re not scared of the moment,” Lutz said. “You’ve got to go play and you’ve got to embrace it. But history tells you that not many 1 seeds beat 16 seeds, so that’s why we have the NCAA Tournament.”