COLUMBIA, SC (AP) Brandon Miller found a safe spot on the basketball court and put on his career-best performance to save No. 2 Alabama.
Miller scored a career-high 41 points, including the tee shot with 0.9 seconds left in overtime, as the Crimson Tide outlasted South Carolina 78-76 on Wednesday night.
Miller’s performance came a day after the 6ft 9in freshman star was linked to a fatal shooting near campus last month. However, hours before the tip, Alabama said Miller was “not a suspect” and would remain an “active member” for the Crimson Tide (24-4, 14-1 Southeastern Conference).
Alabama coach Nate Oats has seen beleaguered players like Miller lock themselves into the game when the going gets tough.
“That’s what they’ve been doing all their life and they’ve forgotten some outside stuff,” Oats said. “I think Brandon has done a great job preparing himself mentally to play.”
Miller turned in the Tide’s first 40-point game since Collin Sexton scored 40 against Minnesota in November 2017.
Neither Miller nor any other Alabama players were available to media after the game.
Miller shook off some early trouble to lead Alabama, which held on to its one-game lead over No. 25 Texas A&M in the hunt for the SEC regular-season championship.
Miller’s final field goal in regulation, with 4.1 seconds left, tied the game at 68 and forced the extra period. Miller finished 14 of 25 from the field and had six of Alabama’s seven 3-pointers.
South Carolina’s Gregory ”GG” Jackson II said Miller’s shooting ability was difficult to overcome. He was 6 of 7 behind the arc.
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Jackson said. ”He’s a great player.”
The game was a crazy end to a turbulent day after Alabama officials announced hours before the whistleblower that Miller would travel and play against the Gamecocks, despite reports he carried the gun used during a fatal shooting of former teammate Darius Miles, now one of two people facing capital murder charges.
Miller’s attorney said his client never touched the gun and walked away from the scene when shots were fired.
The game appeared to be the biggest of the shifts with Alabama rolling to a No. 1 seed in SEC and NCAA tournaments, and South Carolina (10-17, 3-11) having lost its last seven games of home conference.
But it was the Gamecocks who gave the blows early. They had seven straight shots, including the first college 3 for underused rookie Eli Sparkman, to lead 22-15 midway through the opening period.
Alabama and Miller rallied and moved ahead. Miller hit a smooth 3-pointer, ran the break and finished with a high-flying jam, then had a twisting drive that ended in a dunk, sending the Tide ahead 25-24.
Jackson led South Carolina with 19 points, while Johnson and Jacobi Wright had 18 apiece.
Oats wondered where some of his other usual markers were in this one. While Miller hit 56% of his shots, the rest of the team was just 13 of 27 overall and 1 of 14 on 3-pointers.
“It could have been a distraction,” Oats said of the week. “But Brandon showed up.”
Alabama: The Crimson Tide needed everything Brandon Miller could give them in this one. Their defense, generally one of the best in the SEC, allowed the last-placed Gamecocks to shoot 48% from the field on the close call.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks haven’t often shown their ability to hang with average SEC teams, let alone league-leading Alabama. Jackson, Johnson and Wright form a solid core when they all play like they did against the Tide.
When Alabama’s Miller kept Jackson from South Carolina, it was probably a game people will see later in the NBA. Like Miller, Jackson is considered a first-round selection in the next draft, should he go.
Alabama returns home to play Arkansas on Saturday.
South Carolina heads to No. 11 Tennessee on Saturday night.
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