What a run for South Alabama. Just getting to the NCAA tournament was an accomplishment, right?
No complaints, right?
Actually, South Alabama complained plenty.
First, the Jaguars griped about getting shipped to the West Regional as No. 12-seeded team. Have you checked air fares from Mobile, Ala., to Sacramento? Did not the vaunted Sun Belt Conference champions deserve better?
Don't get South Alabama started about lodging.
Wednesday, the Jaguars checked out of the Beverly Garland Hotel after complaining about its, well, quality.
Thursday, perhaps for the betterment of all, South Alabama checked out of the NCAA tournament.
Fifth-seeded Illinois defeated South Alabama, 64-51, at Arco Arena, prolonging the Illini's season while ending a Jaguar campaign that began and ended in chaos.
Some had projected South Alabama as a possible tournament giant killer because of its tough defense, plodding style and last year's first-round success against eventual champion Arizona.
Instead, Illinois (23-9) played the killer defense. The Illini forced 20 turnovers and outrebounded South Alabama, 32-16, in a victory that sets up a Saturday matchup against Maryland, an 82-68 winner over Utah State.
Guard Kevin Turner led Illinois with 18 points, despite making only four of his 12 shots. Matt Heldman added 15, making all three of his three-point attempts.
Toby Madison led South Alabama (21-7) with 19 points. The key statistic line was no points scored for guard Jerome Coaxum, who played 30 pain-filled minutes on an ankle he injured almost two weeks ago in the Sun Belt championship game won by the Jaguars.
The injury left Coaxum ineffective.
"We can't play without Jerome," said South Alabama Coach Bob Weltlich, who took took over the program when Bill Musselman abruptly resigned in October after a dispute with the athletic director. "That's a shame."
Weltlich had no qualms about his opponent, which proved to be the better team. But Weltlich did have some parting shots regarding the hospitality.
Afterward, he was still angered by lodging he deemed to be inadequate. The team checked out of the Beverly Garland, an NCAA-sanctioned hotel, after finding it unsuitable.
"There was no hot water," South Alabama guard Jason Hamm told the Sacramento Bee. "There were stains on the sheets. The lights wouldn't come on in one room I was in."
Another player said he had two different hair treatment bottles in his shower: one from a Westin Hotel, the other from Ramada.
Ken Mompellier, the Beverly Garland's director of marketing, said the hotel offered free breakfast to the team Wednesday and offered to release South Alabama from its NCAA contract.
Mompellier also said South Alabama arrived in Sacramento with an attitude problem.
"Let's face it," Mompellier said, "I heard through the grapevine that this coach has had a bug about coming west right from the beginning."
Weltlich, after praising the fine play of Illinois, had a parting shot for the hotel manager.
"I'm surprised they have only one broken sink and toilet," he said in response to Mompellier's comments in the Bee.
Illinois State 82, Tennessee 81--Dan Muller's layup with two seconds remaining in overtime lifted the Redbirds to victory in the region's most exciting game.
Muller's game-winning shot was set up by passes from Rico Hill and Kyle Cartmill.
Hill led Illinois State (25-5) with 22 points but missed his last nine shots. Brandon Wharton led Tennessee (20-9) with 23 points.
Maryland 82, Utah State 68--No early exit for the fourth-seeded Terrapins, who had lost first-round games the previous two years. Four players scored in double figures for Maryland (20-10), led by senior forward Rodney Elliott's 21 points.
Guard Marcus Saxon led Utah State (25-8) with 25 points.