The 2nd ranked Alabama Crimson Tide showed a ton of heart in defeating South Carolina 78-76 in an overtime thriller on Wednesday night in Columbia, SC. The Tide improved to 24-4 overall and 14-1 in the SEC while the Gamecocks fell to 10-18 and 3-12 in league play.
After the news cycle that the team — and, in particular, Brandon Miller — had to put up with over the last 36 hours, it is incredible they could focus enough to pull out a tough victory. Miller put the team on his back and scored a career-high 41 points, including the basket to put the game into overtime, and the game winner with under one second left.
Coach Nate Oats sent out his normal starting lineup of Mark Sears, Jaden Bradley, Charles Bediako, Noah Clowney, and Miller. Scoring in the game started off slowly and the Tide held a mingy 7-4 lead with 15:40 left in the half. A made-three by Miller took the lead to 13-6 with 13:36 remaining.
South Carolina went on a 9-0 run to take their first lead of the game at 15-13 at the 10:30 mark.
But Miller continued to scored in a myriad of ways, and after a highlight dunk the Tide lead 25-24 with 5:00 left in the half. At that point, Carolina went on another run of 7-0, including a step back 30-foot jumper as the shot clock wound down. Miller hit his third triple of the half and it looked like the Tide was going to go to half down by only one point. However, USC hit a half court shot at the buzzer to take a 35-31 lead into the locker room.
Yep, it was that kind of night.
After one half, Alabama shot 10-25 for 40% from the field, including 3-11 for 27% from the three point line. The Tide made 8-12 free throws and had 18 rebounds, seven assists, one block, and three steals with eight turnovers. Miller had 15 points and Bediako notched seven at the break. South Carolina shot lights out, 15-27 for 56% including 5-10 from deep but were 0-4 from the charity stripe. The Cocks had 11 rebounds, four assists, four steals, one block, and turned if over six times. GG Jackson led the home team with 13 points.
USC hit a three to open the second, before Miller took over and went on a personal 10-0 run to put the Tide up 41-38.
But the Gamecocks went on another big run of 9-0 to take a 47-42 lead with 12:08 left. Sears finally hit a three with 8:25 left to put Bama up 54-49.
Every time the Tide would push out to a lead the Cocks would answer. With 2:41 left Miller hit his sixth three to pull Bama within two at 64-62. Sears made one of two free throws with 1:27 left and the Tide trailed 64-63.
Clowney followed a Miller miss with a putback to give the Tide a 65-64!lead with 55 seconds left. Carolina made two free throws to take the lead back. Bradley drove to the basket for the Tide and was fouled for a two shot foul. The freshman’s first try spun out of the basket, but he made the second to tie the score.
Meechie Johnson then hit a short jumper to put the home team up 68-66 with 14 seconds left.
There wasn't much question who the Tide was going to look to for the final shot. Miller took his time, drove in the lane, and scored on the layup to tie the game. USC missed a shot at the buzzer to move the game into overtime.
In OT, Alabama fouled Carolina big man Josh Gray, a 41% career free throw shooter, who of course made the front and back end of a one and one for a 70-68 lead.
Bradley scored at the rim on a blow by to tie things up at 70. Miller then scored in the lane, and passed to Clowney for a dunk and Bama led 74-70 with two minutes left.
The Gamecocks kept on fighting and tied the game at 74 with one minute left. Miller scored his 38th and 39th points with 35 seconds left in overtime for a 76-74 lead. Once again USC answered to tie the game.
With 20 seconds on the clock Miller once again took control. On a drive he made a layup with his off (left) hand to seemingly give the Tide the win. Carolina threw the ball in and the clock ran out, but the operator had started it too soon. Given a second chance the Cocks once again slung a high court prayer that actually hit off the rim and fell to the floor, giving the Tide the 78-76 win.
In the second half Bama shot 12-29 and 4-16 from three with 9-13 free throws. Overall the team shot 27-62 for 43%. 7-27 from three for 26%, and 17-25 from the line for 68%. The Tide had 41 rebounds, 10 assists, 12 turnovers, six steals, and five blocks. The Gamecocks shot 12- 30 after intermission and 4-10 from deep with 5-6 at the free throw line. USC had 27 rebounds, seven assists, five steals, three blocks, and 11 turnovers.
Oats really shortened the rotation in the game. The starters all played 27 minutes (Clowney) to 43 minutes (Miller). Nimari Burnett (with 19 minutes) and Jahvon Quinerly (with 12 minutes) were the only bench players to log double digits.
What else can you say about Brandon Miller?
Forty one points on 14-25 shooting with 6-13 from deep, and 7-8 at the free throw line. Toss in eight rebounds, three steals, two blocks, one assist, and only one turnover.
Bediako had a huge game with 10 points and nine rebounds, while playing strong interior defense. Very possibly his best game in his Alabama career though it’s not necessarily reflected on the stat sheet. Clowney started slow, but scored eight points to go with eight rebounds; likewise for Sears, who scored eight down the stretch.
Obviously Miller was the player of the game, and Bediako earned the hard hat award.
Other than Bediako, Miller had little to no help on the offensive end from hit teammates. The bench players combined to scored five points and grab seven rebounds. Under the immense scrutiny of the national “media” and attorneys from the Twitter School of Law, Miller shined — as he has all year.
However, tonight was on another level. The front runner for National Freshman of the year and SEC Player of the year kept his cool and played controlled basketball throughout the game. The comparisons to Kevin Durant, George “Iceman” Gervin, Paul George, et al look to be legitimate.
Oats said after the game, “I’m very proud of the guys for hanging in there in a tough environment and pulling out a win.”
Oats continued, “Brandon is very mentally tough” and that the team will need to play much better on offense and defense over the next three games to win the SEC.
Next up is Arkansas at home on Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will be on either ESPN or ESPN2 as of now.