DAYTON, Ohio — Texas A&M-Corpus Christi guard Terrion Murdix left the court at UD Arena the way he entered it Tuesday night, on crutches with a brace on his left knee. But he also hobbled off with a massive smile and the knowledge that his team had advanced in the NCAA tournament.
Playing without Murdix, the Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi held off Southeast Missouri 75-71 in a First Four matchup of No. 16 seeds. The Islanders won their first-ever NCAA tournament game and advanced in the South Region to face No. 1 seed Alabama on Thursday in Birmingham, Alabama.
“It was a consistent theme: ‘Let’s do this for T,'” said guard Ross Williams, who scored 13 points off the bench. “T is an unselfish person, he’ll give the shirt off his back, so when you lose a guy like that, it brings the group closer together. We know we’re not done yet.
“This is March.”
Jalen Jackson led the Islanders with 22 points, including 14 free throws, while Isaac Mushila had 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi led most of the game but found itself tied at 64 with 3:07 to play.
The Islanders had a second-half lead against Texas Southern in the First Four last season but were outscored 17-6 in the final six minutes.
“I’m sitting there saying to myself, ‘Man, you can’t let this happen,'” coach Steve Lutz said. “‘You’ve done a good job, you were up 10 points, you were winning at the half. Get your team back together and get them all on the same page and then finish out the game.'”
Lutz expected his team to respond without Murdix, who sustained his injury minutes into the Southland title game. But the coach also wondered how the Islanders would replace Murdix’s offense, as the senior is third on the team in scoring (13.4) and often creates easy baskets for himself and his teammates.
Williams, who is Murdix’s roommate, helped fill the void by recording just his second game of 10 or more points since Feb. 9.
“Being able to use that as a motivational factor and to turn that around and be able to do this for him, and for him to be here with us, it means the world,” Williams said.
Lutz instructed his team to attack Southeast Missouri’s pressuring defense, anticipating fouls would be called. The Redhawks drew 31 fouls to just 18 for the Islanders, and had their leading scorer Chris Harris (23 points) foul out in the closing minutes.
Jackson made five more free throws than Southeast Missouri, which went just 9-of-20 from the line.
“That’s probably a first,” Jackson said. “I can’t think of any high school or middle school game where I’ve done that. I’m glad I was able to do it.”
The Islanders will make a quick turnaround before facing Alabama in a virtual road game Thursday afternoon.
“I’m sure we’ll have a good crowd there, so we’ll be OK,” Lutz said jokingly. “I mean, we’re going to have a 95, 99 percent sellout for Alabama, it’s going to be unbelievable. Obviously, it’s going to be in their favor, but those fans don’t make 3s or free throws or layups.”