A&M Corpus Christi clinches berth to NCAA tournament with win over Southeastern Louisiana

By Tyler Tyre, Sports Editor
Posted 3/13/22

“We tried to buy into everything Coach told us all season,” said Terrion Murdix, who was named the tournament’s MVP. “As you can see, it worked. We’re going to the Tournament and we’re about to be dancing.”

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A&M Corpus Christi clinches berth to NCAA tournament with win over Southeastern Louisiana

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It was a night 15 years in the making.

Over the past few years, Texas A&M Corpus Christi has had its struggles, recording losing seasons each year from 2017-2021.

Last season was the worst of the bunch for the Islanders, as they won just five games and only two games in conference.

But now, the Islanders are going dancing.

Behind a suffocating defense down the stretch and a balanced offense, A&M Corpus Christi topped Southeastern Louisiana 73-65 Saturday at the Merrell Center, winning the Southland Conference Tournament championships and securing the conference’s automatic bid into the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys that I’m sitting here with and the group of guys that is in the locker room,” said A&M Corpus Christi head coach Steve Lutz. “You always want to play your best basketball in March and to these guys credit, they stayed the course. They faltered a little bit but they got right back on the course and they never stopped believing in one another.”

It was the culmination of a year of hard work for the Islanders, Lutz came in as head coach, his first head coaching job, in April and has built a program that is now NCAA tournament bound.

“We tried to buy into everything Coach told us all season,” said Terrion Murdix, who was named the tournament’s MVP. “As you can see, it worked. We’re going to the Tournament and we’re about to be dancing.”

A&M Corpus Christi scored the games first four points, but Southeastern responded with a 13-0 run, including three three-pointers to take control in early in the first half. The Islanders battled back to take their own lead and things continued to go back and forth throughout the first half, until A&M Corpus Christi went on a run to take a 33-26 lead, eventually leading 35-30 heading into the half.

"All of this started with the character of the guys in the locker room,” Lutz said. “I never lost faith in that as a coach and it proved to be true. These guys, they’re great ambassadors for the school and our basketball program and I’m just so proud of them.”

Southeastern came back with a run to start the second half, trimming the Islanders lead to one five minutes into the half, but Corpus Christi had the response, building the lead back up to seven with eight minutes remaining.

Southeastern struggled offensively down the stretch, going on a scoring drought of over 3 minutes and then going on a field goal drought that spanned the last five minutes and 12 seconds of the game.

This allowed the Islanders to get out on the break and not have to deal with Southeasterns half-court defense, and A&M Corpus Christi grew its lead to double digits with 56 seconds to go, and effectively sealed the game.

"As a group, we knew if we wanted to win the game, we had to get stops,” said Jalen Jackson. “That’s what it came down to and we knew that if the ball didn’t go in, we’d be going to the tournament, because if we got stops then when the clock hit zero we were going to win. So that’s what we focused on.”

For the Islanders, it’s the schools first NCAA Tournament since 2007 and it was done with a team that brought in a new head coach and 12 transfers.

“It clicked immediately,” Jackson said. “We got here June 8th of last year and we started playing pickup together. That’s where we started building our chemistry and then we just decided we had to play together. There was a practice and everyone, the players coaches and the managers all had to put a foot in if we want to get where we think we can go. Everyone put that foot in and believed in the process.”

The Islanders are still enjoying their win, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be ready for the challenge of the NCAA tournament.

“Just like we went to Notre Dame or Minnesota or Texas A&M, we have a belief that we can play with anyone,” Lutz said. “When they throw the ball up at the beginning of the game, it doesn’t matter the name on your jersey, what matters is what’s under that jersey. These guys have what’s in there and they’ve proven it. I feel like we absolutely compete with anyone in the NCAA tournament and we’re going to go in there with a mindset of winning.”

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