The Tide came into the tournament with the worst record of any team in the 64-team field, at 17-12 but Alabama got out to a big first half lead, then was able to hold on–barely–against an aggressive Marquette team in the second half. Marquette, which was 20-10 out of the highly-regarded Big East, was a seven seed and Bama was a ten seed.
The game was late starting because of a "suspicious package" found in the arena prior to the game. The arena was cleared of early-arriving fans and workers and checked. The teams stayed at their hotels. Finally, about 90 minutes late, the game tipped off.
Jean Felix hit eight of 11 three-point shots to lead all scorers with 31 points. He had 17 points in the first half. His previous career high mark was 19 points in a game.
Felix was joined in double figures by Bama's two All-Southeastern Conference honorees. Ron Steele had 23 points–nine of them in a one minute stretch in the last eight minutes of the game–while Jermareo Davidson had a double-double, 21 points and 10 rebounds. Steele had six assists and six rebounds for the Tide.
The big fear for the Tide was Marquette's Steve Novak, and Novak did hit some key shots. He had two three-point baskets in the final three minutes as Marquette cut a seven-point lead to one point with 2:10 to play. Novak had 17 points. But the big news is he didn't have 20, or the game might still be being played. With under eight seconds to play and Alabama leading 88-85 on the strength of two Steele free throws made with 19.3 seconds, Novak took an open shot from the corner. The ball bounced high off the rim and out of bounds, and Alabama had advanced to the second round. Freshman guard Dominic James led Marquette with 20 points.
After taking the lead early in the first half, Bama built its advantage to as much as 15 points with five minutes to play in the first half. At intermission Bama still had a 14-point lead at 44-30.
Marquette fought back in the second half, outscoring the Tide 13-4 to pull within five points in just over three minutes of play. A couple of minutes later the Bama lead was down to just one point at 54-53. And with 11:15 to play the Golden Eagles had completed the comeback, taking a 60-59 lead.
But unlike some recent Tide performances in which Alabama seemed to give out of gas, Bama increased its effort and after a couple of minutes of jockeying took a 66-65 lead on a Felix trey. Bama would not give up the lead the rest of the way, although Marquette would crawl to within a point at 86-85 with under a minute to play.
Felix made his eighth (an Alabama record) three-pointer with just under three minutes and Alabama nursing a four-point lead. The long trey was one of those that seemed to be ill-advised until it swished through for an 84-77 lead. Felix had been only 2-14 on three-pointers in his last two games, losses to Mississippi State to end regular season play and to Kentucky in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
Felix shot only treys from the field. He was also 7-8 on free throws.
Marquette made more field goals than Alabama. The Golden Eagles hit 32-61, 52 per cent, while Bama was good on 28-55, 51 per cent. But the Tide scored one more point from the field by virtue of three-point shooting. Alabama was 12-23 on three-pointers (52 per cent) while Marquette was only 7-22, 31 per cent.
A key to the Tide win was rebounding. Alabama had 28 rebounds, 14 offensive and 14 defensive, while the Golden Eagles had only 19 total rebounds.