No. 1 Alabama cruised to the second round of the NCAA Tournament without a single point from All-American Brandon Miller, a testament to the level of talent the Crimson Tide are equipped with entering a second-round matchup Saturday with South Region No. 8 seed Maryland.
Miller, the Southeastern Conference Player and Freshman of the Year, was held scoreless against No. 16 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi during Thursday’s 96-75 victory. He missed his five shot attempts, committed three turnovers and played just 19 minutes.
Alabama coach Nate Oats revealed Miller was playing through a groin injury and the coaching staff wanted to manage his minutes. On Friday, Oats said Miller was held out of all “live” drills during practice but that he was likely to play against Maryland, even if not 100 percent healthy.
“It obviously wasn’t one of his better games to open,” Oats said, “but I think knowing Brandon and how tough he is, physically, mentally, I think he’ll be ready to go (Friday).”
The Tide (30-5) otherwise looked as crisp as ever, getting 19 points and 15 rebounds from Nick Pringle and draining 15 3-pointers as a team. Alabama also fed off the in-state crowd and will have a chance to lean on their supporters again in Birmingham on Saturday.
“As soon as we came out that tunnel I had chills,” said Tide guard Mark Sears, who finished with 15 points against the Islanders. “Just seeing all the love we had is just an unbelievable experience.”
Maryland coach Kevin Willard sees championship pedigree in his quick scouting of Alabama because of the depth and talent at Oats’ disposal.
“I think this is the most talented roster I’ve seen in college basketball since the ’93-’94 Kentucky team. I think Coach (Rick) Pitino’s ’93 — with Antoine Walker, Walter McCarthy. This team reminds me of that team with the length, athleticism, how unselfish they play, very similar point guards,” Willard said Friday. “I love the way Jahvon Quinerly is playing right now. I’m happy for him. I’ve known him since he was in ninth grade.
“The issue with Brandon is he has such good range. So it’s not like you can just — and he’s so talented off the dribble. He uses his size. Everyone says he’s Paul George, and that’s a really good comparison because I think that’s who he reminds me of.”
While the Terrapins (22-12) had a bit of a tougher time getting out of the opening round, they were able to survive and advance.
Maryland edged West Virginia 67-65 on Thursday after getting off to an extraordinarily slow start, scoring just four points in the first nine minutes.
The Terps clawed back to grab a two-point lead by the break. But it didn’t last long, as they found themselves trailing by nine with 15:05 to play.
However, a late 8-0 run and three free throws from Jahmir Young down the stretch allowed Maryland to prevail, as the Mountaineers’ Kedrian Johnson missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.
“It means a lot to move on. Because this is what you work for since the summer began,” said Terrapins guard Hakim Hart, who finished with 15 points against West Virginia. “Just take it one game at a time.”
By overcoming the early drought and the second-half deficit, Hart thinks Maryland is going to be a tough out, even for Alabama.
“It says a lot about our character to me,” Hart said about the Terrapins’ ability to come back. “It shows we’re going to keep continuing to (fight). No matter the outcome could be. Just keep continuing to keep fighting.”
Saturday’s contest will be a rematch of a second-round game in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Tenth-seeded Maryland defeated UConn to set up a meeting with second-seeded Alabama, which cruised to a 96-77 win. The Tide then fell to UCLA in the Sweet 16.
–Field Level Media