All except for anxious minutes in the first and early second halves.
The Crimson Tide got out to a 24-7 lead, saw the lead dwindle to one point early in the second half, then went on a 22-0 run to handle Colonial Athletic Association regular-season champ Northeastern 62-43 in first-round action in Coleman Coliseum.
Alabama (22-12), left out of the 68-team NCAA tournament largely because of December losses to teams like Northeastern, advanced to a second-round clash with defending NIT champion Stanford or Stephen F. Austin, which played late Tuesday at Stanford.
Second-round games run Thursday through Monday with times and sites are to be announced today. Alabama, one of four No. 1 seeds in the 32-team NIT, will play at home.
Alabama held serve on a night that saw fellow No. 1 seed Kentucky lose at Robert Morris. The NIT is notorious for such anomalies, with teams disappointed about not making the NCAA field and mid-majors eager to capitalize.
“That was obviously our goal before the game, to make a run in this tournament and win it,” Alabama junior point guard Trevor Releford said.
Northeastern (20-13) came into the tournament handicapped, going without senior guard Joel Smith. The team’s top scorer at 16.1 points a game and a first-team All-CAA pick sat out with an undisclosed injury.
The Huskies also suffered weather-related travel misadventures. Unable to get a flight out of Boston, they bussed two hours to Providence, R.I., sat on a plane three hours, deplaned and stayed overnight. They flew out of Providence at 4 a.m. and arrived in Tuscaloosa at 10 a.m. Tuesday, after leaving campus at 3 p.m. Monday.
Alabama, which came into the game with a 60 RPI compared to Northeastern’s 159, looked to have a case of the mehs in the final minutes of the first half. The Tide led just 28-23 at the break after getting out to a 24-7 lead on redshirt freshman guard Retin Obasohan’s 3-pointer at 8:16.
Alabama missed 13 of its last 19 shots of the first half, while Northeastern (20-13) wound up 8-for-20 after a 3-for-10 start.
The Huskies took about 12 minutes to adjust to the size and athleticism of its SEC opponent, committing six quick turnovers but finishing the first half with just eight. Alabama scored 14 first-half points off turnovers.
Northeastern went on a 9-0 spurt after Alabama took its 24-7 lead and closed to within 28-23 on senior guard Jonathan Lee’s 3-pointer with 33 seconds left in the half.
Releford missed a 3-point try just ahead of the halftime buzzer.
“We matched their energy, and that was really the only part of the game where we did that,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said. “We at least played as hard as they were playing. When you do that, you give yourself a chance.
“During that stretch, we took care of the ball. We executed offense, so we were able to climb back in the game.”
Grant said Northeastern’s run “was a lot of what we weren’t doing” and challenged the Tide at halftime.
“The challenge for us in the second half was to regroup and refocus and get over whatever happened and come out with intensity,” Grant said. “I thought in the second half the guys responded.
“Defensively, we really turned it up, caused some problems and got out in transition, and guys were extremely aggressive from an offensive standpoint.”
Lee opened the second half with two consecutive baskets to bring Northeastern within 28-27, but Alabama woke up from its slumber. Sophomore guard Trevor Lacey’s long 3-pointer as the shot-clock buzzer sounded and baseline drive helped the Tide push back out to a 37-27 lead by 15:53.
Sophomore guard Levi Randolph drove baseline for dunks on consecutive possessions to make it 43-27 at 13:46, and order was restored before sophomore forward Nick Jacobs ultimately capped a 22-0 run with a layup to put Bama up 50-27 at 10:24.
Grant called Randolph’s drives “just making plays.”
“I was in the corner, and Trevor found me when he drove,” Randolph said. “I was able to rip through, and I had a good seal from (junior center) Moussa (Gueye) on the back side, and I was able to go up and finish.”
Randolph finished with a team-high 13 points, and Lacey added 11. Releford and Obasohan added nine apiece, and Alabama shot 45.5 percent (25-55) from the field.
Lee led Northeastern with 13 points, and Tuscaloosa native Reggie Spencer (Hillcrest High) added 10. The Huskies shot 33.3 percent (15-45).
Grant said Alabama’s up-and-down game of runs was similar to the Tide’s season.
“As a team, we’ve got to get beyond that, and that’s the maturity that I’m looking for as a coach,” he said. “My expectation for our guys is to understand that, and let’s get the maturity and let’s stop letting that happen.
“Obviously, you can’t always control what another team does, but let’s not do it to ourselves.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.