COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)Brandon Miller found a safe spot on the basketball court and put up his career-best showing to rescue No. 2 Alabama.
Miller scored a career-high 41 points, including the go-ahead basket 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 6-foot-9 freshman standout was linked to a fatal shooting near campus last month. However, hours before tipoff, 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 embattled players like Miller lock into the game when things are difficult.
”It’s what they’ve done their whole lives and let some of the outside stuff out of their mind,” Oats said. ”I thought Brandon did a great job really getting himself mentally ready to play.”
Miller had 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 the media after the game.
Miller shook off some early struggles to lead Alabama, which kept its one-game lead over No. 25 Texas A&M in the race for the SEC regular-season championship.
Miller’s final basket in regulation, with 4.1 seconds to play, 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 shotmaking ability was hard to overcome. He was 6 of 7 behind the arc.
”Nothing you can do about that,” Jackson said. ”He’s a great player.”
The game was a wild finish to an eventful day after Alabama officials announced hours before tipoff that Miller would travel and play against the Gamecocks, despite testimony he transported the gun used in a fatal shooting to former teammate Darius Miles, now one of two people facing capital murder charges.
Miller’s attorney said his client never touched the gun and drove away from the scene when shots were fired.
The game appeared to be the biggest of mismatches with Alabama rolling toward a No. 1 seed in the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, and South Carolina (10-17, 3-11) having lost its previous seven conference games at home.
But it was the Gamecocks who delivered the punches early. They made seven straight shots, including the first college 3 for little-used freshman Eli Sparkman, to lead 22-15 midway through the opening period.
Alabama and Miller rallied and moved in front. Miller hit a smooth 3-pointer, ran the break and finished with a high-flying jam, then had a twisting drive that ended with 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 scorers 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’ve been a distraction,” Oats said of the week. ”But Brandon showed up.”
Alabama: The Crimson Tide needed all Brandon Miller could give them in this one. Their defense, typically one of the SEC’s best, allowed the last-place Gamecocks to shoot 48% from the field in the close call.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks haven’t often shown the ability to hang with average teams in the SEC, let alone the league leader in Alabama. Jackson, Johnson and Wright make a strong core when all play like they did against the Tide.
When Alabama’s Miller guarded South Carolina’s Jackson, it was likely a matchup people will see down the road 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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