The SEC won two of its three games last night as the NIT opened up its play.
Top seeded South Carolina breezed through game 88-66 against 8-seed High Point. Carolina led by good margins for a lot of the game, although a late High Point run in the first half made the halftime margin only five. The Gamecocks outscored the Panthers 40-23 in the second half to run away with it, though.
The best player on the court was Laimonas Chatkevicius, who made a remarkable 15-of-16 field goals en route to a 30 point performance. Sindarius Thornwell backed him up with 20, while Michael Carrera had a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards. Boosted by Chatkevicius's accuracy, the Gamecocks made 60% of their field goals while, oddly, only attempting five free throws in the game.
The 2-seed Florida Gators also had little trouble in their NIT opener, blowing past 7-seed North Florida 97-68. The Gators dominated the first half to the tune of 57-25, scoring more points in the period than they did in four entire games this season. UNF did outscore UF in the second half by three, but the game was already over by then.
All five Florida starters hit double digits, and Chris Chiozza did the same off the bench. Dorian Finney-Smith led the team with 15 points, while John Egbunu registered a double-double with 13 and ten in his final game of the year. Head coach Mike White announced after the game that Egbunu finally decided to have surgery to fix a ligament he tore in SEC Tournament practice last week.
The one stumble of the night came from the 5-seed Alabama Crimson Tide, which fell to 4-seed Creighton 72-54. Bama had an awful time on offense in the first half, particularly later in the period. They scored just seven points in the final 11:43 of the half, and they found themselves down 30-19 at the break. The Tide briefly cut the lead to nine on two occasions right out of intermission, but afterwards they were never able to cut the lead to less than ten.
Justin Coleman's 18 off the bench led the way for Alabama, while Retin Obasohan finished his career in crimson with 13 points. The other four Bama starters other than Obasohan scored no more than three points each, and the Tide as a team shot just 28%. Alabama also found itself outworked on the glass, where Creighton had a 45-32 advantage. The first year of Avery Johnson's tenure is over, but it had some highlights that suggest good things are to come.