Johnson scores 29, leads UTSA to 1st NCAA tourney win
Dayton, OH (Sports Network) - Melvin Johnson III scored 25 of his career-high 29 points in the first half and Texas-San Antonio held on for a 70-61 victory over Alabama State on Wednesday for its first-ever win in the NCAA Tournament.
The Roadrunners, after leading by 27 points at halftime, staved off an Alabama State rally and moved on to face Jared Sullinger and No. 1 overall seed Ohio State in the East Region on Friday.
They did it behind the tournament's first star performance -- even if it only lasted a half.
Johnson, a 6-5 sophomore guard, took over the first 20 minutes for Texas-San Antonio (20-13), hitting eight of his 13 shots and all eight free throws to lead the Southland Conference Tournament champions to their big lead.
"I can't really think of a game I've had like that since high school," he said.
Refusing to quit, Alabama State (17-18) hustled down the stretch to inject some drama into the opening-round game. But it was too little, too late.
Jeff Middlebrooks and Tremayne Moorer scored 12 points apiece to lead the Hornets, who fell to 0-4 all-time in the NCAA Tournament after winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament for the second time in three seasons.
Alabama State did much of its damage in the second half with Johnson sitting on the bench. But the Hornets had no answer for him in the first half.
"That was a tough loss," said head coach Lewis Jackson. "I thought that we came out a little lethargic, playing too tight and too timid."
During one series, Johnson stepped in front of an Alabama State pass for a steal, dribbled the length of the court untouched and threw down a one-handed dunk to make it 38-15.
By then, he was outscoring Alabama State 21-15 by himself.
Near the end of the half, Johnson was guarded by three players on the right side when he hit a step-back baseline jumper with the shot clock winding down for a 26-point lead.
"Seemed like everything was going in for me," he said.
Teammate Tyler Wood stole the spotlight, hitting a long three-pointer at the buzzer that gave the Roadrunners a 48-21 lead at halftime.
Texas-San Antonio outshot Alabama State 53-30 percent in the first half and 43-36 percent for the game. Jeromie Hill added 14 points in the game for the Roadrunners while the team's leading scorer, Devin Gibson, had 10.
Alabama State used a 14-2 run to pull within nine points, 64-55, on Moorer's turnaround baseline jumper. Later, the Hornets cut a 13-point deficit to 10 on Kenderek Washington's three-pointer with 1:18 remaining.
But they were never as close as nine again until Tramaine Butler's steal and layup with 20.9 seconds left for the final margin.
"They came out and never stopped fighting. So they deserve a bunch of credit," said Texas-San Antonio head coach Brooks Thompson.
The game was part of the new format for this year's 68-team NCAA Tournament -- one of the "First Four" games at University of Dayton Arena. Texas-San Antonio will be the No. 16 seed when it faces the powerhouse Buckeyes and star freshman Sullinger in Cleveland.
"We've been playing as underdogs pretty much the whole way through. Again we're going to be underdogs [against Ohio State] I'm sure," said Hill. "We just take each game as it comes. We've just got to go out there and play basketball, and whatever happens towards the end of the game happens, but we're not going to take a backwards step."
The Roadrunners, in control until the late-game rally, improved to 1-2 in the NCAA Tournament and continued an improbable run that saw them win their conference tournament as a No. 7 seed.
Sparked by Johnson, who opened the game with a three-point play, Texas-San Antonio never trailed against the Hornets while extending its winning streak to six.
"The second half, I don't know what was going on," said Johnson. "I guess they came back, they came out with a little more fire than we did. We didn't play our best half. But we came out with a victory, and that's all we can ask for."
Johnson, who was averaging 14.8 points entering the game, finished 9-of-17 from the floor and 9-of-13 from the foul line...Texas-San Antonio beat regular season champion McNeese State in the Southland Conference final on Saturday. The Roadrunners' last appearance in the NCAA Tournament ended in a loss to No. 1 seed Stanford in 2004...Alabama State had won 11 of its last 12 entering the game.
03/16 22:23:29 ET