SEMO Men's Basketball Heads to NCAA Tournament, Facing Texas A&M-CC in First Four, Watch Party Draws Large Crowd
It's been 23 years in the making, and this year's comeback was a surprise. But, that didn't stop the momentum once they started.
In the final OVC Championship games, the Southeast Missouri State University Men's Basketball team won four straight games to clinch Championship, automatically qualifying them as a contender in the NCAA Playoffs in the Southern Region.
The crowd at the Show-Me-Center for the Sunday NCAA Selection Show Watch Party was already feeling the excitement of this moment. Before the doors opened at 4 p.m. on Sun. March 12th, the line to get in the building stretched all the way down the sidewalk to the parking lot on a chilly and breezy, but sunny afternoon.
Once the line of fans was inside, the crowd was met with the sounds of the Redhawk Pep Band and two lines of cheerleaders greeting those who came to share in the program's historic event.
Each fan received a March Madness oversized ticket/poster/bracket for the players to sign.
As the official event got underway just before 4:45 p.m., the players, coaches, and staff were announced with fanfare, and John Voss, Representative for Missouri's 147th District also presented a proclamation for the occasion.
Then, everyone waited in suspense to hear the official placement for SEMO in the tournament.
The CBS Sports NCAA Men's Basketball Sunday Selection Show then got underway. Alabama was announced as the number one seed, and then no sooner than the words left the announcer's mouth, the crowd erupted in cheers when Southeast Missouri State appeared on national TV as one of two teams that will compete as number 16 seeds. That other team is Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Chris Harris, the 2023 OVC All-Tournament Team MVP, spoke about his journey as a player and a senior on the team.
"It's a great feeling just to be able to share this moment with the community. It's something that everybody can relish in. And it's moments like these that make basketball and make the team special because it's a moment that really unites everybody and brings everybody together", said Harris.
Harris then reflected back on his collegiate career. "So for me to be here for four years, and, you know, come off an injury and go through a coaching change and all that to be here today, sharing this with the community is surreal."
SEMO Men's Head Coach, Brad Korn also spoke about the challenges of the hard-fought season.
"You know, it's been an up and down here from the start. We started out hot, and then we lost some games and went on a little bit of a losing skid.... two weeks ago playing for first place in the league and then lost a couple more so wasn't looking pretty. But then found our way into the conference tournament", said Coach Korn.
Korn continued, "and to win four games in four days is very hard to do. But our guys were up for the challenge. I thought we had the potential all season long".
Associate Director of Athletics for Strategic Communication, Jeff Honza talked about the exposure of the program, and what it means for Southeast Missouri State.
"It's an unbelievable experience for the institution— the community, the fan base, the national exposure that Southeast Missouri State University has received from all of this is amazing. And the fact that CBS was able to come to Cape Girardeau and do the live feed of the reaction shot for the Selection Show, and then also have a live interview with the inside college basketball hosts in the studio earlier, Sunday before the Selection Show was unbelievable publicity for the institution."
Nate Saverino, Senior Associate Director of Athletics: External Affairs at Southeast Missouri State University, talked about the experience of being at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana, where the Redhawks played their final OVC Championship game, from the perspective as a SEMO alum and staff member.
"We went over last Saturday, just in time for the game drove back right after the game. And it was really exciting, really emotional, obviously, being an alum and working full time here for gosh, 13 years now, to be able to see that and experience that in person was really fun."
Saverino was also pleased about the turnout for the Selection Show Watch party at the Show-Me-Center.
"So many people here... it was really awesome, like, a really great payoff, right? We didn't know all week long what to expect in terms of a crowd. People were asking, and it was just sort of like, 'no idea'. But I thought they showed up really, really well. We had a great crowd here today. It was really exciting."
When asked about the experience at the Show-Me-Center: "I thought we'd put on a nice little show, for the crowd, but also for the team, and an experience that they'll remember, both with the crowd that was here, but then also with the intro sequence that we did, it was just a lot of fun."
Coming in as a sixteen seed, they will first face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, another sixteen seed, in Dayton, Ohio during the South Region's First Four of the NCAA tournament. That game can be seen on Tues. March 14th at 5:40 p.m. CDT on TruTV.