Alabama takes down Illinois 79-58 in NIT 1st round
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Levi Randolph had 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists to help Alabama rout Illinois 79-58 on Tuesday in the first round of the NIT.
Alabama (19-14) played its first game without head coach Anthony Grant, who was fired Sunday afternoon and replaced by interim coach John Brannen.
''We were playing for more than just ourselves tonight,'' Brannen said. ''This is coach Grant's program as I've mentioned many times. He's asked us to carry it on in terms of going forward and we're going to do that to the best of our abilities.''
Alabama shot 59.6 percent from the field overall, including 8 of 15 from 3-point range. Rodney Cooper added 19 points.
Malcolm Hill led Illinois (19-14) with 22 points and six assists. The Fighting Illini shot 32.3 percent from the field, including just 7 of 24 from beyond the arc, and were nearly run out of the building early.
Alabama went on a 20-0 run in the first half, holding Illinois scoreless for eight minutes. Alabama shot 63 percent from the field in the first half, knocking in 17 of 27. The Tide shot 50 percent from 3-point range on the way to a 46-22 halftime lead and they stretched the lead to as many as 30 points in the second half.
''We use the term and we used it with coach here that we just want to keep punching and eventually your opponent will eventually wear down,'' Brannen said. ''Every timeout that came, I said, `Guys, they ain't wearing down yet so we need to continue.'''
Illinois shot 31.3 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes and 16.7 percent from beyond the arc. Coach John Groce had publicly worried about the motivation of his team this week a year after playing in the NIT and just a few days after a slow start cost them dearly in a 73-55 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament.
The Illini had no answers for Alabama and lost for the sixth time in eight games.
''I thought they were inspired today,'' Groce said. ''I thought that they had a cause today, and I thought they came out with a chip on their shoulder today. I thought their effort level, their energy level, in particular the majority of the first half, but I think the first eight minutes was outstanding so give them a lot of credit.''
Illinois: The Illini outrebounded Alabama 36-33. ... Illinois ended its season, losing 14 of its 33 games.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide trailed for only 13 seconds in the game, falling behind 4-3 early in the first half. The Crimson Tide picked up its 1,600th win in program history.
Illinois: Season over.
Alabama: Plays Miami in the second round.