INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The rest of Rick Pitino’s designer suits will stay on the hangers, thanks to a blitz of baskets by Alabama that pried open a tight game Saturday and gave the Crimson Tide a 68-55 win over Pitino’s underdogs from Iona.
Herb Jones led Alabama with 20 points, including a steal and layup that highlighted an 11-0 run and gave Alabama breathing room at 54-46 after the teams seesawed with the lead through much of the second half.
But this was never easy for the second-seeded Crimson Tide (25-6).
Everyone knew the coach would come to the NCAA Tournament prepared, and expecting to win. Even though he came in with his highest seeding ever — a 15 — Pitino came to Indy with eight suits and at least a glimmer of hope he might use more than one.
This is the fifth, and maybe most unlikely, program he has brought to the tournament, in large part because the Gaels (12-6) went 50 days without playing a game in midseason due to COVID-19.
But they won their conference tournament as a 9 seed, and Pitino had done this before; his first Final Four trip came with a 6 at Providence.
Wearing a black suit with a maroon tie that matched his teams colors, Pitino urged, cajoled, yelped and stomped his black shoes on the hardwood to grab his players’ attention.
Most of the time, he had them in the right position. Iona forced 14 turnovers, and Alabama had trouble getting an open look for most of the first 30 minutes. The Gaels got lots of open looks themselves. What did them in was an inability to make them. Isaiah Ross scored 19 points on 8-for-18 shooting. The rest of the team went 15 for 41.
In the end, the Gales got beat by a deeper, more athletic team that wore them down. Alabama is in the tournament with its best seeding in history, on the strength of its first SEC Tournament title in 30 years.
It has its own up-and-coming coach in Nate Oats. Oats shared a long handshake and a short visit with Pitino while the buzzer sounded, and Pitino turned and exited his 22nd NCAA Tournament while chants of “Roll Tide” came from the rafters at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Alabama plays the winner between UConn and Maryland who played later Saturday.
Pitino says things are just getting going at Iona, where he’s working on a tougher schedule that might give the Gaels a chance at an at-large bid if they don’t win the conference.
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