GREATEST MOMENTS | SEMO won its first national title in 1943


SEMO-greatestThe hero of  the sports moment judged the greatest in Southeast Missouri history rarely spoke of his role in the school’s first national championship.

Instead of his last-second, game-winning shot in the NAIA men’s basketball championship on March 27, 1943, Jack Behrens talked about the coaching, his teammates and how the game was low scoring.

Behrens went on to a distinguished career in higher education, including 22 years as an administrator at SEMO. He was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2008 and the school established a scholarship in his name in 2014, following his death in 2013.

The 1943 team made SEMO’s hall of fame in 2002 and the school’s website tells their story:

Under the direction of coach C.P. Harris, the 1943 Indians claimed the school’s first-ever athletics national championship with a 34-32 victory over fellow Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association opponent Northwest Missouri State in the NAIB finals (Kansas City, Mo.).

Southeast had defeated Northwest in its previous two regular-season meetings that season to clinch the MIAA title. The third meeting between the two schools proved to be most exciting, as the Indians pulled away in the game’s final seconds.

Southeast junior guard Jack Behrens drained a shot at the top of the key with seven seconds remaining, giving the Indians a narrow victory and national championship.

The come-from-behind win in the national championship game capped a comeback season for the Indians.

Southeast lost its first four games of the 1942-43 campaign before winning 19 of its last 21 contests. The Indians also went 8-0 in MIAA conference play during that stretch.

On the way to their national crown, the Indians dropped some of the nation’s top small colleges of the era with wins over Dakota Wesleyan, Westminster College, East Washington State and Murray State.

Southeast also boasted a 10.6 margin of victory throughout the postseason. All five of Southeast’s starters were named either first- or second-team all-conference.

Behrens, Jack Russell and Carl “Ben” Bidewell garnered first-team honors, while Rolla Anderson and Jack Klosterman were named second team for the 19-6 national champion Indians.


• Southeast Missouri Athletics Hall of Fame

On the cover and above: The 1943 NAIA national champions. Front row from left: Jack Russell, Rolla Anderson, Dave Radcliffe, Ray Melton, Mort Harris, Head Coach C.P. Harris. Back row from left: Vernon Landgraf, Jack Klosterman, Carl “Ben” Bidewell, Bill Gohen, Don Richardson, Jack Behrens. (Courtesy Southeast Missouri State University Archives)

Monday: Saint Louis and Samford
Tuesday: Sam Houston State and Seattle
Wednesday: South Florida and Southeast Missouri State
Thursday: Southeastern Louisiana and SIU Edwardsville
Friday: SMU and Southern Mississippi

Mike Bambach

Mike Bambach is senior web producer for ASN.