Hillman Starts, Takes Advantage

Alabama senior guard Senario Hillman hasn't started most of his team's games this year. He got the start against Coastal Carolina in the Tide's dominating 68-44 opening round NIT win. In some respects he was a "slow starter," getting all his points in the second half. But he was key to victory.

Senario Hillman got the start in Coleman Coliseum Tuesday because of an injured teammate. This isn't a Lou Gherig-Wally Pipp situation (scenario?), but Hillman responded with 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals.

"Tony Mitchell has been a little banged up," said Alabama Coach Anthony Grant. "He has a contusion on his upper thigh  and a sprain in his foot."

The coach said, "I thought Senario gave us great energy, On the offensive end he was patient, and took good shots. He did a good job in the frame of what we are trying to do."

Grant said Hillman has made some sacrifices for the good of the team.      "I think for Senario, being a senior, he's been the ultimate teammate and the ultimate veteran in terms of understanding what this team needs from him. That hasn't always been easy."

Said Chanticleers Coach Cliff Ellis: "We didn't know a lot about Alabama. We don't hear a lot about Hillman, but he's very athletic and he did a nice job. He hurt us rebounding, he hurt us penetrating, and he made some plays."

Hillman went over 1,000 points for his career in the game. With two thefts, he  recorded his 173rd career steal in the game to move him within one of a tie for the career record at UA.

"Hey, if I get the steal, I get the steal," he said. "I've just got to keep competing."

He hopes to keep competing all the way to a spot in the NIT Final Four in New York's Madison Square Garden. Alabama is two wins shy of The Big Apple at this point.

NOTES: Tide redshirt sophomore swingman Andrew Steele did not dress for the game. An Alabama spokesman said Steele suffered a concussion near the end of the Kentucky game Saturday and is listed as day-to-day. Steele averaged four points, 2.6 rebounds and 18.3 minutes this season.

Grant also played point guards Trevor Releford and Ben Eblen together some.

Steele's spot in the eight-man rotation was taken by freshman Charles Hankerson, who scored five points.

Alabama didn't play its "normal" lineup of Trevor Releford, Charvez Davis, Tony Mitchell, Chris Hines, and JaMychal Green until the 8:13 mark of the first half.

     C.M. Newton, the chairman of the NIT, was in attendance. Newton, a former Crimson Tide head basketball coach, lives in Tuscaloosa.

Ellis had been to Coleman Coliseum many times before during his tenure at Auburn (1994-2004).

When hosting an event such as the NIT, the home team doesn't get to use all its normal bells and whistles. The lights did not go down for pre-game Tide intros, and PA announcer Tony Giles was much more neutral in his inflection.

Bama will take on the UTEP-New Mexico winner at a time and sate to be announced, with Tuscaloosa the site. That's a perk of being an NIT No. 1 seed. Alabama is expected to have the homecourt advantage if it can win that contest. The semifinals and finals of the tournament are played at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Alabama signee Rodney Cooper of Phenix City was in attendance.

Carl Engstrom, Bama's 7-1 freshman from Sweden, replaced Green after a technical was called on Green after a late first half dunk. Engstrom had not played in a first half since SEC play began.

Coastal Carolina became the 19th opponent this season to score less than 30 points in the opening half.

CCU's 22 first-half points are the fifth fewest by a UA opponent this season,

Mitchell has scored in double figures in 31 of UA's 33 games this season.

UA's 38 first-half points are its most since scoring 47 against Mississippi on Feb. 12.

The Tide's 10-0 run from 14:53 to 12:19 was its 20th run of 10-0 or greater this season.

Alabama is now 17-0 in Coleman Coliseum this season.

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