Alabama clocks Coastal Carolina in NIT opener

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Coastal Carolina wasn't sure how Alabama would react two days after being shut out of the NCAA tournament.

Tony Mitchell, Charvez Davis and Trevor Releford all scored 12 points and the Crimson Tide brushed off that disappointment in a 68-44 victory over the Chanticleers on Tuesday night in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

"I told our team we'll either catch them brooding or they're going to be out to make a statement," said Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis, who spent a decade at Tide rival Auburn. "The team we played was out to make a statement.

"I'll be surprised if they don't get to Madison Square Garden [for the semifinals]. They had a mission and I thought they should be in the NCAA tournament."

So did Alabama (22-11), which won the Southeastern Conference Western Division before falling to Kentucky in the second round of the SEC tournament.

The Tide built a 20-point lead late in the first half and never let the short-handed Chanticleers (28-6) get anything going.

Now 17-0 at Coleman Coliseum, Alabama will host either New Mexico or UTEP.

Coach Anthony Grant and players insisted that the NCAA omission wasn't the motivation.

"That's behind us," Grant said. "We needed to turn the page."

Davis agreed but added, "Any time we step on the floor, we try to send a message."

Mitchell came off the bench and hit back-to-back 3-pointers to help begin the rout, going 3 for 4 from beyond the arc. He didn't start because he was nursing an assortment of leg problems. Backup guard Andrew Steele sat out after sustaining a concussion against Kentucky.

Anthony Raffa and Chad Gray led Coastal Carolina with 10 points, but the Chanticleers managed a season low in points and shot 33 percent (16 of 48).

Leading scorer Desmond Holloway was suspended late in the season for an eligibility issue and starting point guard Kierre Greenwood was also lost in February to a season-ending knee injury. That left Ellis with only eight players.

"That was not the way we wanted to end it," Ellis said. "We went through a lot of things."

Senario Hillman added 11 points for the Tide. Leading scorer JaMychal Green was mostly surrounded by defenders around the basket, but still finished 4 of 5 for nine points and collected 10 rebounds.

The Chanticleers had a 22-game winning streak during the regular season before losing half of their final eight.

They still haven't won a postseason game since beating Jackson State in an NCAA tournament play-in game in 1991, losing their last four.

Alabama scored 29 points off 19 turnovers and had 13 steals.

"We wanted our defense to create offense," Grant said. "We wanted to get out in transition and that opened things up for our guys."

The Tide's defense, which gives up the ninth-fewest points per game nationally, sparked a 17-2 run in the second half that all but put away the game. Alabama had steals on four consecutive possessions and took a 58-29 lead when Davis recorded the fourth and a layup.

The Tide pushed the advantage to 30 in the final minutes.

"They're a team that should be an NCAA team," said Ellis, who coached at Auburn from 1994-2004. "They're making that statement. They took us out of everything we wanted to do."

The Chanticleers had beaten one Southeastern Conference team, LSU, in overtime earlier this season but were outmanned in this one.

They earned an automatic NIT bid by winning the regular-season Big South Conference title.

The Tide rode an 18-2 run to a 38-18 lead late in the first half after Coastal Carolina went nearly seven minutes without a field goal. The Chanticleers did manage a couple of baskets at the end to cut the halftime deficit down to 16 but never got closer after that.

Alabama shot 55 percent in the first half (16 of 29) and made nine of its first 13 shots after halftime.