DAYTON, Ohio — Texas A&M-Corpus Christi guard Terrian Mardix left on crutches with a brace on his left knee as he entered the court Tuesday night at UD Arena. But he also did it with a big smile and the knowledge his team was moving on to the NCAA tournament.
Playing without Mardix, the Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi defeated Southeast Missouri 75–71 in the first four matchups of the No. 16 seed. The Islanders won their first NCAA tournament game and advanced to face No. 1 seed Alabama in the South Regional 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 a selfless guy, he’ll take the shirt off his back, so when you lose a guy like that, it brings the group together. We know we’re not done yet.
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 for most of the game but found themselves tied at 64 with 3:07 to play.
The Islanders had taken a second-half lead in the previous season’s first four against Texas Southern, but were blown out 17–6 in the final six minutes.
“I’m sitting there telling myself, ‘Man, you can’t let that happen,'” coach Steve Lutz said. “‘Well done, 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 Mardix, who kept his injury minutes in the Southland title game. But the coach also wondered how the Islanders would replace Mardix’s offense, as the senior ranks third on the team in scoring (13.4) and often makes easy baskets for himself and his teammates.
Williams, who is Mardix’s roommate, helped fill the void by recording his second game of 10 or more points since February 9.
Williams said, “To be able to use that as a motivating factor and to be able to do that for him, and for him to be here with us, it means the world.”
Lutz directed his team to attack Southeast Missouri’s pressing defense, anticipating that fouls would be called. The RedHawks drew just 18 of 31 fouls for the Islanders, and their leading scorer Chris Harris (23 points) fouled out in the final minutes.
Jackson made five more free throws than Southeast Missouri, which went just 9-of-20 from the line.
“It’s probably a first,” Jackson said. “I can’t think of any high school or middle school games where I’ve done that. I’m glad I was able to do that.”
The Islanders will make a quick turnaround before facing Alabama in a virtual road game on Thursday afternoon.
Lutz joked, “I’m sure we’ll have a good crowd there, so we’ll be fine.” “I mean, we’re going to have 95, 99 percent sellouts 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.”