TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Antoine Pettway sure does respond well to criticism.
People thought he was "crazy" to turn down scholarship offers from smaller schools and walk on at Alabama. Then, they wondered if he was in over his head as a starting point guard in the Southeastern Conference.
Maybe now people will stop questioning both Pettway's judgment and his basketball skills.
"He's proved he belongs at this level," Crimson Tide coach Mark Gottfried said.
Pettway has led Alabama (17-12) into the NCAA tournament in his lone season running the point, becoming a fan favorite with his energetic style and penchant for the clutch shot. Everyone loves the underdog, after all.
The Tide opens the tournament Thursday against Southern Illinois (25-4) in Seattle, led by a 6-foot, 170-pounder who entered the season with only 10 career starts.
"He's an overachiever, if ever they had a definition for that word as a basketball player," Gottfried said. "He's made more big shots and big plays and gotten more big rebounds. He's just a gutsy guy.
"He just plays so hard and he wants to win so bad that he ends up making plays just on sheer determination and will."
Pettway averages 9.4 points and ranks second in the Southeastern Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio. He doesn't grab the headlines of more prolific Alabama scorers Kennedy Winston and Earnest Shelton and might not have even gotten his chance to be the Tide's triggerman if Mo Williams hadn't skipped his final two seasons for the NBA.
"A lot of people were doubting whether I could run the point and all that, but I had run the point all through high school and my freshman year," Pettway said. "I wasn't really concerned about what the papers were saying.
"I just went out and did my best and got the job done and just try to do whatever it takes to help my team win. You judge a point guard by the wins."
While not known for his scoring, Pettway has taken matters into his own hands a few times. Among them:
-He hit the game-winning layup against Florida in 2002 to clinch the SEC title.
-He made a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left to beat Georgia in January.
-He tied the game with a 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation against Arkansas late this season. The Tide won in overtime after trailing by 22 points in the second half.
-Pettway also calmly sank two free throws to send the Florida game to overtime in the SEC tournament last weekend, though the Tide wound up losing.
"He might not have the swagger that every other bigtime player has, but he knows he's good," Tide forward Chuck Davis said. "His shooting ability is just great. His poise is great. And at the end of a game at the free throw line, it looks like he feels no nervousness to me.
"There's nobody I'd rather have to take a big free throw at the end of a big game than him."
If Pettway had listened to his high school buddies, he might never have landed in Tuscaloosa. He spurned other offers, choosing instead to walk on at Alabama in 2000 after leading Wilcox-Central High School to the Class 5A state championship as a senior.
His parents were supportive of the decision, but others said "that I was crazy," Pettway recalled.
"They said, 'You're getting all these offers. Why are you going somewhere where you've got to pay?"' he said. "I felt bad because I didn't want my parents to have to pay. But coach Gottfried told me he'd give me a scholarship the next year, and he did."
Now, Pettway has been part of three NCAA tournament teams, won an SEC championship and made it to the NIT semifinals.
"I think a lot of times, what if I hadn't come and took one of my other offers?" he said.
Alabama fans don't even want to think about it.