Thursday, March 16, 2006

Felix’s threes lead Crimson Tide to victory

Alabama outlasts Marquette, 90-85


— Alabama's Jean Felix quickly brought the focus back to basketball with every 3-pointer he swished.

Felix was nearly perfect in scoring a career-high 31 points for the Crimson Tide, which beat Marquette 90-85 in a thrilling first-round NCAA Tournament game on Thursday that was delayed 70 minutes after bomb-sniffing dogs detected something suspicious at San Diego State's Cox Arena.

Players weren't distracted during the delay. The teams were kept at their hotels while a bomb robot was brought to campus.

"Those things are not going to beat us," said Felix, a senior forward.

"They were joking in the back of the bus, 'The bomb's not going to beat us, coach,'" Alabama's Mark Gottfried said. "It throws you off a little bit, but the important thing's to make sure the building is safe."

It turned out there wasn't anything to worry about.

The arena hadn't yet opened to spectators when a security sweep turned up something suspicious on a concession cart in an upper concourse about two hours before the scheduled tipoff. The arena was cleared of workers and media, and fans gathered in nearby parking lots.

An all-clear was given about two hours later and fans were allowed in once security staff took their posts inside the arena.

Players from Marquette were the first to take the floor for warmups, but it was 'Bama that came out hot.

Felix was an unlikely catalyst, considering that he was a combined 2-for-14 in the Crimson Tide's previous two games, losses to Mississippi State to end the regular season and Kentucky in the first round of the SEC tournament.

But he calmly put up 3 after 3, and it helped that Alabama got numerous second chances thanks to its rebounding muscle.

Felix was 8-of-11 shooting -- all from behind the 3-point line -- and made 7-of-8 free throws. Steele scored 23 points, and Jermareo Davidson had 21 points and 12 rebounds.

"I feel like I was hot today, but I didn't do it by myself," said Felix, who was born in the Congo Republic and grew up in France. "I have four guys with me today who do a good job passing me the ball."

Felix, who once scored 32 points in a junior college game, "had one of those performances that is just phenomenal," Gottfried said.

Felix made five 3-pointers in the first 12½ minutes, and the Crimson Tide raced to a 15-point first-half lead.

Marquette caught the Tide and went ahead by two midway through the second half. Felix made his eighth 3-pointer -- a school postseason record -- with less than 3 minutes left for an 84-77 Alabama lead.

Marquette's star forward, Steve Novak, had two chances late, and missed both.

With Alabama leading 86-85, the ball bounced off Felix's foot and went out of bounds, but Novak missed a turnaround jumper. Alabama's Ronald Steele made two free throws for an 88-85 lead. Novak, Marquette's all-time 3-point shooter, missed from behind the arc in the right corner with 7.8 seconds left.

"I guess I'm not really sure what I'd change about it," Novak said. "Obviously it didn't fall. It was probably the first open shot I had all night. So, I mean, some go down, some don't. It was obviously a huge shot."

Brandon Hollinger finished it off with two free throws for the 10th-seeded Crimson Tide (18-12), which moves on to face UCLA in the Oakland Regional.

Marquette (20-11) was eliminated in its first NCAA Tournament appearance since reaching the Final Four in 2003.

Freshman guard Dominic James, who keyed Marquette's second-half comeback, had 20 points. Novak had 17. James scored seven points in two minutes early in the second half.

Novak said Marquette's players were aware that the FBI warned last week of a recent Internet posting discussing terrorists attacks aimed at college basketball arenas and other sports stadiums. The FBI also said there were no specific or credible threats.

"We understand that any small thing like that needed to be seriously looked into. It was handled the right way," Novak said.


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