About the series: The UTSA athletics department and men’s basketball program have granted the NCAA communications staff access to student-athletes and coaches to chronicle their experiences of competing in the inaugural First Four.
2011 Men's Final Four: Check out NCAA.com coverage
By Greg Johnson
Making history isn’t always easy.
After grabbing a 48-21 lead at the half, UTSA looked to have its first NCAA tournament victory well in hand.
But this is March Madness, where the impossible becomes possible.
The Roadrunners refused have their moment ruined after they withstood a furious Alabama State rally over the final 20 minutes to post a 70-61 victory in the First Four on Wednesday night.
UTSA guard Melvin Johnson III shoots over Alabama State guard Dwayne Harvey. (AP Photo/Skip Peterson)
USTA made only five field goals in the second half and saw its lead dwindle to nine points with 2:54 left on the clock. Still, when the final buzzer sounded, the Roadrunners were right where they wanted to be.
Coach Brooks Thompson, whose team improved to 20-13, said the mood in the locker room was initially bittersweet.
“It was a little low because of the circumstances of the game,” Thompson said. “You have a 27-point lead at halftime, and (Alabama State) kept fighting back and crawling back.”
That bittersweet feeling soon dissipated.
“After we simmered down, you look back and say, ‘Wow, we just made history,’ ” said point guard Devin Gibson, the lone senior on the team. “The great feeling comes over you again just like it did when we won the Southland Conference tournament championship.”
Taking the program to a level it has never reached will be the legacy of the 2010-11 Roadrunners. UTSA jumped on a bus bound for Cleveland, where No. 1 overall seed Ohio State awaits for a second-round East Regional matchup Friday.
Sophomore guard Melvin Johnson III was a big reason why UTSA took control of the game. Johnson scored 25 points in the first half on 8-of-13 shooting from the field and 8-of-8 at the free-throw line.
“I just wanted to get the win because I knew how important it was to our school and basketball program,” said Johnson, who had already registered his career high at halftime. “It seemed like everything was going in for me.”
Johnson outscored Alabama State by four points by himself in the first 20 minutes. He helped spark a 17-4 run to start the game and a 15-4 run over seven minutes late in the half. Johnson ended the game with 29 points.
When time passes, Johnson’s performance will be one of the lasting memories for the Roadrunners. It can go alongside their comeback victories over Texas-Arlington in the regular-season finale and the stunning comeback where they erased a late 14-point deficit to beat Northwestern State in the quarterfinals of the Southland Conference tournament.
This is also the kind of accomplishment that the coaching staff can point to when they try to convince prospective student-athletes to come to UTSA.
“It will definitely impact recruiting,” said assistant coach Robert Guster, whose team will become a member of the Western Athletic Conference in 2012-13. “Being able to say we were in the NCAA tournament and won a game is something guys can get excited about.”
But those are potential future benefits. Right now, the only thing on the minds of the Roadrunners is focusing on Ohio State.
Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, no 16 seed has beaten a No. 1.
“I know the odds are against us,” Thompson said. “But when you try to build a program, you build tradition. Hopefully, we can get to the point where we’re not just happy to be here and play a game.”
Gibson added: “I’ve dreamed about being a 16 seed and having a chance to knock off a No. 1 seed. If we were able to do that, it would be a huge accomplishment.”
Now, that would be historic.