The Ohio State Buckeyes finally know who they will face on Friday in the 2nd Round of the 2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament. Thanks to a career game from Melvin Johnson III, the Roadrunners of UT-San Antonio took a 27-point halftime lead over Alabama State before hanging on for a 70-61 win in tonight’s first of two First Round contests at the University of Dayton.
ohnson, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Roadrunners, in control from the start, 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 and extended its winning streak to six.