Mark Sears, Crimson Tide roll in March Madness as Alabama races past Charleston 109-96

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Mark Sears led the highest-scoring offense in the country with 30 points, and fourth-seeded Alabama had no problem making shots in its NCAA Tournament opener, racing past No. 13 seed Charleston 109-96 on Friday night.

After two other teams from the state of Alabama, UAB and Auburn, got bounced earlier Friday in Spokane, the Crimson Tide avoided boarding another charter plane for a long flight home.

The win followed rough couple of weeks for Alabama, which lost four of its final six, including an early exit from the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The Crimson Tide will face No. 12 seed Grand Canyon in the second round of the West Region on Sunday.

“To go through a little adversity and still have these guys come together and really play as hard as they did tonight, as hard as they played for each other, as good as they did on the defensive end when we struggled to guard at times, I think that’s the most fulfilling,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said.

Sears was the catalyst, turning a close game into a blowout with a pair of surges late in the first half and to begin the second. The second-team AP All-American hit the 30-point mark for the fourth time this season and helped get others involved. Sears made 9 of 13 shots, was 9 of 11 at the foul line and was equally troublesome for Charleston whether spotting up from deep or driving to the rim.

Sears posted his 23rd 20-point game of the season, tying the school record set by Reggie King in 1978-79.

“I just wanted to be aggressive early, get by my guy and make something happen for others or if nobody was in front of me have a layup,” Sears said.

Sears also drew the primary task of trying to slow down Charleston's leading scorer, Reyne Smith. He and his teammates succeeded as Smith finished with 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

“I think when Sears is locked in to playing defense, we’re pretty good on defense,” Oats said.

Latrell Wrightsell Jr. had 17 points for Alabama (22-11) despite missing a chunk of the first half after his nose collided with the back of the head of a Charleston player. Aaron Estrada scored 13.

Alabama came in averaging 90.8 points per game this season and topped 100 for the 10th time while setting a school record for scoring in the NCAA Tournament.

Ben Burnham led Charleston (27-8) with 19 points and Frankie Policelli scored 15. Kobe Rodgers added 14 points for the Cougars but had to be helped off the court with 4:07 left after appearing to suffer a left leg injury.

The champions of the Colonial Athletic Association were willing to play at the same pace as the Crimson Tide, but didn’t make enough shots to keep up. The Cougars missed 16 of their first 18 3-point attempts after hitting 34.5% for the season.

Alabama's biggest lead was 31 points.

“You got to give Alabama a ton of credit. They were terrific tonight. Whatever they shot, 60 percent from 3, I think they were shooting 60-plus from 3 at halftime. That’s hard to do with nobody in the gym,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “I felt like every time it left their fingers the ball was going in. The rim looked really big.”

UP NEXT

Alabama will face another underdog in Grand Canyon but a team that has similar athleticism. It could be another fast-paced game.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness