Alabama’s 7-foot Swedish import Carl Engstom had just bungled a rare scoring opportunity late Tuesday evening. The amusement continued when senior walk-on Justin Luquire’s up-and-under move clanged off the rim.
The rout was on and the Alabama bench wasn’t missing the opportunity to cut loose.
A 68-44 win over short-handed Coastal Carolina sent the Crimson Tide into the second round of the NIT against either UTEP or New Mexico. The date and time is still undetermined, but Alabama’s top-seed means it’ll host the first three rounds should the winning continue.
After being left out of the NCAA tournament field, there was talk of proving the selection committee wrong with a deep run in the NIT.
“Every night we step on the floor, we are sending a message,” guard Charvez Davis said after tying Mitchell with a team-high 12 points.
On Tuesday, the Tide left little doubt for the 5,116 in Coleman Coliseum.
Injuries, suspensions and defections left Coastal Carolina (28-6) with just eight scholarship players. Those who remained couldn’t keep pace with Alabama’s up-tempo style.
The Tide (22-11) scored 28 points off the 19 Chanticleer turnovers — 13 off Alabama steals that tied a season high for the hosts. Senario Hillman’s two steals left him one away from tying the Alabama career record of 174.
Reserves saw action late in the first half when the lead reached 20, but the real carnage came after halftime.
After a brief 5-0 Coastal run cut the deficit to 14, Alabama’s defensive pressure hit another gear.
A 17-2 outburst included a stretch of four baskets in five possessions following steals. The gassed regular-season champions of the Big South Conference had nothing left after Alabama doubled its score at 58-29 with 11:40 left.
“What we tried to do is hurry them up a little bit and get them out of rhythm — out of sorts so to speak,” Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. “Hopefully that is part of why they didn’t shoot the ball well.”
The Chanticleers’ 77.4 scoring average ranked in the top-20 nationally, but it got barely more than half of that Tuesday and shot just 33.3 percent (16-of-48).
“They got out on the break and they’re so athletic,” Coastal guard Danny Neiman said. “That’s an NCAA caliber team.”
Alabama, on the other hand, shot a few percentage points above its season average making 47.5 percent of its 61 shots.
A banged up Mitchell came off the bench to provide a scoring boost in the first half. Slowed by calf and thigh contusions and a sprained foot, the team’s second-leading scorer found a home in the corners. He made all three of his first-half 3-point attempts from that spot to score 12 points and tie career highs for 3s made in a game.
The seven 3-pointers Alabama made as a team was the most since its Feb. 2 home win over Mississippi State and three shy of a season high.
With the Chanticleers limiting touches for leading scorer JaMychal Green in the lane, perimeter shooting became a necessity.
“I thought Tony opened the game up for us in the first half when he knocked down the three 3s,” Grant said. “We were able to get enough jumpers to fall to keep them honest.”
Coastal coach Cliff Ellis, formerly of Auburn from 1994-04, said Mitchell’s long-range shooting didn’t occupy much of the scouting report. It created a major shift in momentum, he said, since the Tide led by just three when the first of the three went down.
Green scored nine points — only his second single-digit total of the year — on a night where he earned another technical foul. A first-half follow dunk ended with Green bumping Coastal center Jon Pack. Both were assessed technicals and Green went straight to the bench.
Green said he just “got a little too excited” after the big play and words were exchanged.
With the wide margin, 11 players saw the floor Tuesday night. That didn’t include top reserve Andrew Steele who suffered a concussion late in Saturday’s SEC semifinal loss to Kentucky. Grant said he was “day to day” while recovering.
Besides Mitchell, freshman Charles Hankerson was the only bench player to score with five points on 2 of 9 shooting.