Southeast Missouri State University student publication

What it took for SEMO men’s basketball to punch their second ticket ever to NCAA Tournament

Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Sophomore guard Aquan Smart poses with the Ohio Valley Confrence Tournament Trophey at the NCAA Selection Show watch party held at the Show Me Center on March 12.
Photo by Branton Beard

Redhawks head coach Brad Korn’s team currently sits at 19-16, securing his first winning season in only his third year at SEMO. The team finished the regular season at 15-16, earning the five seed in the OVC Tournament.

During the tournament, the Redhawks reeled off four wins in four days, marking the second time the feat has ever been accomplished and the first time by the fifth seed in the OVC. The only other team to win four games in four days to win the OVC Tournament was the eighth seed Austin Peay team in 2016.

In an interview for Hawksnest, Korn said this feat helps set the stage for the future.

“Just a sense of belief from our guys that they knew they could accomplish a goal like that to win four games in four days — I don't care who you are, or what conference it's in or anything like that, that's a pretty special feat, especially when you know that the NCAA Tournament is the reward for that,” Korn said. “So, [I] couldn't be more proud of our guys. The way that they played represented not only themselves and their families, but also the university.”

SEMO defeated No. 8 Lindenwood 84-65 in the first round, No. 4 Tennessee State 91-83 in the quarterfinals and knocked off regular season champions Morehead State 65-58 and No. 2 Tennessee Tech 89-82 in overtime to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

In that same interview, Korn discussed the importance of the role the Cape Girardeau community has played throughout the season.

“You could see the crowds progressively grow, coming out of the COVID year, and last year, we made some progress, and this year, it was up and down,” Korn said. “We had some rough patches there throughout the season, which most teams do. But we found our way at the end and really saw some people come out and support us.”

In the year 2000, SEMO's men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time. Twenty-three years later on March 4, 2023, they punched their ticket back to the big dance.

The 1999-2000 SEMO team finished 24-7 overall and went 14-4 en route to sharing the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) regular season championship with Murray State University. The 24-win season is the school record for wins in a season at the Division I level.

SEMO’s head coach of the 1999-2000 team, Gary Garner, said the team he had that year was extremely talented.

“It was a very talented team — we had all the necessary ingredients. We had a big center, 6’9” about 240, a couple of wing guys who were good and the guards,” Garner said. “We had good talent on the bench. So, we really had good players — that was good talent. That's always the most important thing.”

Southeast went on to beat the University of Tennessee-Martin 76-74 in the quarterfinals, Middle Tennessee State 78-60 in semifinals and Murray State 67-56 in the championship game, marking the first time they made it to the NCAA Division I Tournament.

In the 1998-99 season, SEMO lost to Murray State in the OVC Tournament championship game, making the 1999-2000 win extra special.

“It was really good and maybe a little better than some other years, because Murray State had beaten us on a last-second shot in the finals the year before,” Garner said. “I mean, it was a last-second desperate desperation shot. So, that was still stuck in our craw, and we had most of those players back. We were able to win that and go to the national tournament.”

With a 64-61 loss in the first round to No. 4 seed Louisiana State University (LSU), they were knocked out of the tournament. The Redhawks would go 21-11 in the 2000-01 season and did not have another winning season until the 2012-13 season, in which they went 17-16. They lost to Eastern Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the OVC Tournament that year.

The next year, the Redhawks went 18-14 before once again losing to Eastern Kentucky in the quarterfinals. The 2013-14 team featured both Michael Porter, father of NBA player Michael Porter Jr., and Antonius Cleveland, one of only two SEMO basketball players to make it to the NBA. The 2013-14 season would be the last time the Redhawks had a winning record until the current 2022-23 season.

SEMO alumni Matt Brucker said he is pumped to see the Redhawks punch their ticket in the NCAA tournament.

“SEMO will be representing us on the biggest stage in college athletics. For the community, it's huge,” Brucker said.

When SEMO defeated Tennessee Tech on March 4 for the OVC Championship, Brucker was in the front row right behind the Redhawks bench.

“When we went up 7-0, our fans had a lot of confidence out of that and got behind the team,” Brucker said. “I think that really helped push them forward to eventually win the game.”

Brucker attended every home game this season. Depending on the location of where SEMO will play during the first round, he is hoping to travel to watch them play.

Sophomore criminal justice major Josh Chambers is an avid SEMO basketball fan.

“It’s important to the community because those that were around for the team that won 23 years ago or have gotten the chance to meet them were able to relive that moment,” Chambers said. “For us students here at SEMO, it allows us to take pride in our school and have the opportunity to say we witnessed history.”

Since the OVC Conference Tournament was the first to finish, SEMO was the first team to punch an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. The Redhawks will play Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi on Tuesday March 14. The game will be televised on truTV with tipoff set for 5:40 p.m. CT.