Texas A&M-Corpus Christi wins First Four game against Alabama

Adam RittenbergESPN senior writerRead for 3 minutes

DAYTON, Ohio — Texas A&M-Corpus Christi guard Terrion Murdix left the field at the UD Arena as he entered Tuesday night, on crutches with a brace on his left knee. But he also stumbled away with a huge smile and the knowledge that his team had advanced in the NCAA tournament.

Without Murdix, Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, played Southeast Missouri 75–71 in a No. 16 seed First Four matchup. The Islanders won their first-ever NCAA tournament game and advanced in the South Region to face the No. 1 seed in Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday.

“It was a consistent theme, ‘Let’s do this for T,'” said guard Ross Williams, who scored 13 points from the bench. “T is a selfless person, he will give the shirt off his back, so when you lose a man like that it brings the group closer together. We know we are 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 12 rebounds. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi led most of the game, but was tied at 64 with 3:07 left 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 did 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 the game.'”

Lutz expected his team to respond without Murdix, who was injured minutes into the Southland title match. 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.

Murdix’s roommate Williams helped fill the void by recording only his second game of 10 or more points since Feb. 9.

“For us to be able to use that as a motivating factor and turn that around and do this for him, and for him to be here with us means a huge amount,” said Williams.

Lutz instructed his team to attack the pressed defenses of Southeast Missouri, expecting fouls to be called. The Redhawks committed 31 errors to just 18 for the Islanders, and their leading scorer Chris Harris (23 points) was eliminated in the dying 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 a high school or high school game where I’ve done that. I’m glad I was able to do it.”

The Islanders will make a quick turnaround before meeting Alabama in a virtual road race on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of audiences there, so we’ll be fine,” Lutz said jokingly. “I mean, we’re going to have a 95.99 percent sell-out for Alabama, it’s going to be incredible. Obviously it’s going to be in their favor, but those fans aren’t making 3s or free throws or layups.”

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