Courtesy: UTSA Athletics Communications
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — Melvin Johnson III insists he's in a deep shooting slump.
The smooth guard with "SWISH" scrawled on the side of each orange shoe scored a career-high 29 points on Wednesday night, putting on the most scintillating show so far in the NCAA Tournament while leading UTSA to a 70-61 victory against Alabama State in the "First Four" round.
"It seems like the last four or five games, I can't make a shot," Johnson III said. "I have 'SWISH' on the side of my shoes because I used to make shots. I might have to black it out for now."
No need to edit the footwear, not after that NCAA Tournament debut.
The Roadrunners (20-13) and their smooth guard will head to Cleveland for a game on Friday against national top-seed Ohio State (32-2), which won't allow all those open shots.
"No. 31, if he's on like he was tonight, it should be a pretty good game," Alabama State's Jeff Middlebrooks said.
Against Alabama State (17-18), Johnson III took advantage of every opening.
The sophomore had a career high in the first half alone, when he outscored the star-struck Hornets, 25-21.
Middlebrooks and Tramayne Moorer had 12 points apiece for Alabama State, which had the worst record in the expanded 68-team tournament.
"We let a guy get 25 points in the first half," Moorer said. "He outscored us!"
UTSA came to Dayton with a stated goal. The Roadrunners have never won an NCAA Championship game of any sort. Now, they have a reason to raise a banner in their 4,080-seat Convocation Center.
"Our first win in an NCAA Tournament game in any sport and we're very proud to be in this moment," head coach Brooks Thompson said.
He might as well let Johnson III pick the spot to place the banner.
The 6-foot-5 guard did everything on Wednesday night. He scored off drives to the hoop and made fall-away jumpers from every spot on the court, hardly missing in the decisive first half. He was 8-of-14 from the field, making one less field goal than all the Hornets combined.
"He got good look after good look, and he also made some tough shots," Hornets coach Lewis Jackson said. "He got on a roll and it trickled down to everybody else."
Johnson III also got to shoot four free throws after a pair of technicals on the Hornets. He made them all, of course.
He even connected while sitting on the court after getting fouled in the second half. He playfully flipped the ball at the basket and it went in. He took only four shots in the second half.
UTSA's front line took control during a 17-4 opening run that put the scent of a blowout in UD Arena. The Roadrunners got 14 of the first 18 rebounds, repeatedly giving themselves second chances after a miss.
Johnson III turned those extra chances into his showtime.
He made a 3-pointer that built the lead to 31-13. Next time down the court, he was feeling so comfortable that he quickly got off a long 3-ball that came up short of the rim for one of his few misses
While a smattering of Alabama State fans chanted "Air Ball," Johnson turned away and smiled. So did Thompson, who couldn't blame him for shooting away.
Johnson III sent a stir through the crowd with an emphatic, breakaway dunk that built the lead to 38-15 with 3:50 left in the opening half and showed that the Hornets had no chance of slowing him down. By then, he already had 21 points, three shy of his previous career high.
The low point for Alabama State?
Robert Sanders tried to dunk off a rebound and missed, then hung on the rim and drew a technical foul. Johnson III made the two resulting free throws.
UTSA stretched the lead to 28 points early in the second half before Alabama State went to a swarming full-court press and got the lead down to nine (64-55) with 2:54 to go, but the comeback stalled from there.
The Hornets reached the NCAA Tournament without ever having a winning record during the season.
· UTSA led by as many as 28 and then held off Alabama State for its first NCAA Tournament victory after three losses.
· Melvin Johnson III scored 25 of his career-high 29 points in the first half.
· Jeromie Hill had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds and Devin Gibson added 10 points for the Roadrunners, who have won their past six games in the last 14 days.
· Alabama State shot just 35.5 percent (22-of-62).
· UTSA will play national No. 1 seed Ohio State (32-2) in the second round on Friday in Cleveland. Tip is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. (CT) or 30 minutes following the conclusion of the 1:20 p.m. game between George Mason and Villanova.