Texas-San Antonio-Alabama St. Preview
DAYTON, Ohio (AP)
Its record was lousy, its turnaround remarkable. Nobody else got to the NCAA tournament quite like Alabama State.
The Hornets (17-17) have the worst record in the 68-team field. Everyone else has more wins than losses. Alabama State would have to beat Texas-San Antonio (19-13) on Wednesday night just to have its first winning record all season. The reward would be a trip to Cleveland to play top-seeded Ohio State.
''The record doesn't mean anything right now,'' forward Tramayne Moorer said Tuesday.
He's right, of course, headed into the single-elimination NCAAs. And the Hornets break-even mark may be deceiving.
Alabama State was depleted by injuries during its brutal opening schedule - it played eight of the first nine on the road. It wasn't surprising that the Hornets opened 1-8, the only win coming in their only home game. They ended the month of January with a 73-59 loss at Texas Southern that left them 6-16.
The problem? They couldn't score. The Hornets were one of the worst shooting teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. They couldn't even make a free throw, shooting only 55 percent from the line.
After that loss at Texas Southern, things started coming together. Moorer, who got a sixth year of eligibility because of injuries, returned for the final 15 games. The rest of the lineup mended. The offense came around, and the Hornets won their next eight, gaining confidence with each game.
''Once they got two or three wins under their belt, they even worked harder in practice,'' coach Lewis Jackson said. ''They got so competitive. We knew as a coaching staff that these guys were about to come together. And they kept working and working, and the wins started to pile up.
''And here we are.''
The offense came around when Moorer, the top returning scorer from last season, got healthy again. He was the MVP of the conference tournament, averaging 13.7 points and 7.3 rebounds.
''We didn't have an inside presence,'' Moorer said. ''The time I was out, we were like one of the worst teams in the nation, field goal-wise and free throw-wise.''
UTSA can appreciate the Hornets' strong finish. The Roadrunners won all five of their games in March to get back to the tournament for the first time since 2004.
''It's crazy,'' guard Devin Gibson said. ''You look at what we did - we think we did something, but they had to win 11 of their last 12.''
Coach Brooks Thompson can see the difference in the Hornets' last two months just by watching tape of their games.
''I can tell you, I wish we were playing them when they were 1-7,'' Thompson said. ''Obviously they've got to have some decent character on that basketball team because if you start out (like that) and you can win 11 of your last 12 games, something's going right.''
The Roadrunners are a young team that had some low moments before getting on that closing surge and winning the Southland Conference tournament. Now, they have the chance to get the first NCAA tournament win in school history.
''It would mean everything,'' Gibson said. ''UTSA has never won a tournament game in any other sports that we have at school. It's not only about us as a basketball team, it's about us as a university.''