TUSCALOOSA | For the University of Alabama basketball team, the main fear Tuesday night was either complacency or distraction.
The Crimson Tide didn't suffer from either one, overwhelming an undermanned Coastal Carolina team 68-44 to win in the opening round of the NIT. Next, Alabama will face New Mexico in Tuscaloosa at a time and day to be announced.
Alabama forced 19 turnovers that led to 29 points. UA snapped an early 5-5 tie with a 13-2 run and never looked back against the Chanticleers, champions of the Big South Conference.
"For us, the emphasis was on defense," Crimson Tide coach Anthony Grant said. "We wanted to play to our identity and I thought we did that. That was the message we have tried to send to the guys - play to our identity - and we're glad that it was heard."
UA guard Charvez Davis, one of three Alabama players to score a team-leading 12 points, said the Crimson Tide's energetic performance was not a specific message for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee that passed over the Tide earlier this week.
"Any time we step on the floor, we try to send a message," Davis said. "Night in and night out, we try to improve. Every time we play, we try to prove a point, so I wouldn't say that was different tonight."
Playing in front of a snug but vocal crowd of 5,150, UA put the game away early in the second half with a 20-7 run that pushed its lead to 58-29 with 12 minutes to play. UA scored just 10 points after that as Grant emptied the bench.
"Alabama did all the right things that needed to be done against us," said CCU coach Cliff Ellis, a veteran with Southeastern Conference experience at Auburn. "Their pressure really bothered us. We felt like we needed to limit turnovers and rebound with them. We rebounded with them, but they forced 19 turnovers and those turned into easy points. Their team is going to go a long way. We didn't play very well, but I give Alabama the credit. They're a team that should be in the NCAA Tournament.
"They've got a lot of different weapons. Their defense creates so much that they are going to be a tough out. If Mitchell can knock down some 3s to help (Charvez) Davis, they are going to be tough."
Chad Gray and Anthony Raffa each scored 10 points for the Chanticleers (28-6), who had just eight players available.
UA (22-11) was also down one player as Andrew Steele was held out of the game due to a concussion he suffered last Saturday in the Crimson Tide's loss to Kentucky.
Sophomore forward Tony Mitchell was also banged up, with senior Senario Hillman stepping into the starting lineup.
"Tony has had a contusion in his thigh and a sprain in his left foot," Grant said. "We weren't sure what we would get out of him, but I thought he had good energy in the time he played."
Hillman also responded with an 11-point effort that pushed him over the 1,000-point mark for his career. Mitchell and Trevor Releford each scored 12 points. JaMychal Green had a streak of 26 straight double-figure scoring games snapped, but had nine points and 10 rebounds.
Grant was also asked about Atlanta media speculation linking him with the job vacancy at Georgia Tech.
"I'm the head coach at the University of Alabama," Grant said. "That's my focus and will continue to be my focus."
Sources close to the situation have indicated to The Tuscaloosa News that Grant is not interested in pursuing the opening at Tech.