Robert Williams drives against an Alabama defender in the first half, Thursday.
March 14, 2002
By FRED GOODALL
AP Sports Writer
GREENVILLE, S.C. - There's a quiet confidence about Alabama that the Crimson Tide insist shouldn't be mistaken for indifference, even after they barely survived a scare from Florida Atlantic in the NCAA tournament.
The Southeastern Conference regular-season champions scored 10 straight points to pull away from a 64-64 tie, then held on Thursday for an 86-78 victory in the first round of the South Regional.
Freshman guard Mo Williams scored a career-high 33 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had six assists to pace the Crimson Tide, who advanced to a second-round matchup against Kent State, a 69-61 first-round winner over Oklahoma State.
Florida Atlantic, trying to become just the fifth No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2, matched the heavily favored Crimson Tide basket for basket for nearly 33 minutes.
But in the end, Alabama just had too much firepower when it counted.
Alabama (27-7) was left out of the NCAA field last season despite winning 25 games, the victim of a weak schedule. The Crimson Tide beefed up their non-conference slate and used what they still perceive as a slight as motivation to tear through the SEC this year.
The No. 2 seeding equals the best ever for Alabama, which also was a No. 2 seed in 1987 when Gottfried was a senior on a team that won a school-record 28 games.
The Crimson Tide can match that mark by beating Kent State (28-9), which extended its winning streak to 19 with its upset of Oklahoma State.
FAU made the field of 65 for the first time by winning the Atlantic Sun
Conference tournament, capping a dramatic turnaround from a 2-28 finish just
two years ago - Sidney Green's first at the Boca Raton, Fla., college that
hopes it has forever shed the moniker of F-A-Who?
The Owls insisted they wouldn't be intimidated by Alabama's reputation, playing on national television or before a crowd five or six times larger than norm for one of their games.
Alabama shot 50 percent and led 30-19 before FAU stormed back to take a 40-38 at the half.
Nick Neumann, a reserve center averaging 3.0 points a game, keyed the surge with nine points. Defensively, the Owls stayed in it by not allowing Alabama's top scorers, Erwin Dudley and Rod Grizzard, to get involved in the Crimson Tide offense.
Grizzard was scoreless until his 3-pointer put Alabama ahead 64-61 with just over 8 minutes to go. The 6-foot-8 guard made another 3-pointer to start the 10-0 run that broke the game open.
Dudley, the SEC player of the year, finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. Grizzard was limited to six points on 2-for-8 shooting.