Texas A&M-Corpus Christi grabbed the first win of the 2023 NCAA Tournament with a 75-71 triumph over Southeast Missouri State on Tuesday night at UD Arena.
For the Islanders (24-10), the victory was especially sweet after they lost the opening game of last year’s tourney.
“We had a great group of guys come back,” Islander Jalen Jackson said. “We lost three players last year, but we had a good group of guys come back. And we all set out to make history, first by winning conference, then winning the conference tournament, and winning some games in the March Madness tournament. To be in this moment right now, it’s amazing.”
Their redemption almost didn’t come, though, as the Redhawks (19-17) erased a 10-point lead to tie the score at 64 with three minutes to go.
Jackson broke the tie with a pair of free throws at the 2:48 mark, and the Islanders held on as the teams traded scores over the last three minutes.
“My message to those guys is we don’t need to hit home runs,” TAMU-CC coach Steve Lutz said. “Let’s keep hitting singles and doubles. Obviously Owen Dease with however many seconds throws a behind-the-back pass that’s not in the game plan, but it worked out for us, and we got Isaac (Mushila) to the line and got some free throws.”
Mushila, who scored 15 points for the Islanders, iced the game with a free throw with 1.5 seconds left. That came after he rebounded Phillip Russell’s step-back 3-point attempt that would have tied the game.
Jackson led the Islanders with 22 points while Trevian Tennyson added 12.
Chris Harris led SEMO with 23 points, but he was one of three Redhawks to foul out of the game.
Russell added 15 points for SEMO.
The Islanders advance to take on No. 1 seed Alabama on Thursday in Birmingham, Ala.
“That’s why we have the NCAA Tournament, to have situations like this where you get a chance to go shock the world,” TAMU-CC coach Steve Lutz said. “Nobody thought Saint Peters was going to get as far as they did last year, either. That’s what makes this tournament special, guys.”
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