SEMO men’s basketball comes up short against Texas A&M Corpus Christi in the First Four of NCAA Tournament
The Redhawks historic season has met its end after losing to Texas A&M Corpus Christi in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament by a score of 75-71.
The nerves of being on the biggest stage in college basketball played a major role in the opening minutes of SEMO's performance. The Redhawks would get off to a shaky start after the opening tip, finding themselves down 6-0 in the first two minutes of the game.
It would take a deep three by point guard Phillip Russell to get the Redhawks back on track. The SEMO offense would go on to cut Corpus Christi's lead to one point with a score of 7-8 with 15:38 left in the first half.
As soon as SEMO seemed to be back on track, their momentum was de-railed by costly fouls and turnovers. The Redhawks went on to commit six fouls in the first six minutes of the game. This would become a common theme throughout the game and SEMO would go on to set a First Four record with 31 fouls committed.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi seized their opportunity from the line, nailing 27 of 35 of their free throws throughout the game.
SEMO only hit 9 of 20 of their free throws.
Despite early mistakes and missed opportunities at the line, the Redhawks would keep themselves afloat in the first half with the three ball. Freshman forward Adam Larson would lead the Redhawks efforts from three point range, going 3 for 4 beyond the arch with 9 points, which helped keep Corpus Christi’s lead to six points before going into the half.
After trailing in the first half, the Redhawks kicked off the second half strong, coming within one point of the Islanders lead on multiple occasions.
The Islanders would quickly get back on track by controlling the paint, which led them to grow their lead by double digits with a score of 43-53 with 9:13 left to play in the game.
The Redhawks kept fighting, and gritted out a 18-9 run, making the score 61-62 with 4:52 left to play. Senior guard Chris Harris followed by draining two free throws, tying the game at 64.
Despite a late game comeback, SEMO would continue to be plagued by fouls as senior guard Chris Harris, senior center Nate Johnson, and sophomore guard Aquan Smart would all foul out with just minutes left in the game.
The Islanders would go on to close out the game by making 9 of 12 from the free throw line, solidifying their spot into the next round against the number one seed, Alabama Crimson Tide.
After the game sophomore guard Phillip Russell reflected on the Redhawks loss.
“It was all on us I would say. They denied us hard but we’ve seen it all year, we know how to step off, and I really feel like we just beat ourselves today,” Russell said.
After the final buzzer, the culprit of the Redhawks loss was clear. Offensive rebounds by the Islanders (15), fouls (31), and missed free throws (11) cost SEMO a total of 54 points.
Head Coach Brad Korn said this year can serve as a valuable learning opportunity to build into the next year.
“Moving forward there's a standard now, and a level that we have to get to every single day,” Korn said. “It just goes back to that validation of what you’re doing is going to be held up now by the players and it’s not just coach driven or just words on a chalkboard, its tangible real life effort blood, sweat, tears that went into that to make it happen, and everybody knows that now, and it's got to be a consistent message of what the standard now is.”
Although players who provide large contributions to the Redhawks success will be graduating this year, such as OVC MVP Chris Harris, Nate Johnson, and Israel Barnes, Coach Korn is confident in his younger players. He said he believes their exposure to the NCAA tournament early on in their college careers will contribute greatly to their personal and team based success.
“What do you want to do for the rest of your career? Do you want to continue to go to the NCAA tournament? Do you want to walk out of SEMO saying I went to four straight NCAA tournaments? Do I want to be a multi- champion? I think that's the thing for them, and that's the motivator,” Korn said.
The 2022-2023 season will go down in history as one of the most successful seasons for the men’s basketball team since the year 2000.