“Warrior” Brandon Miller plays through pain to lead Alabama in Sweet 16

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — It took more than 50 minutes of basketball, but Brandon Miller finally looked like his old self during this year’s NCAA tournament.

After going scoreless in top-seeded Alabama’s first-round win over 16th-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the SEC Player of the Year led the Crimson Tide to the Sweet 16, scoring 19 points and seven rebounds in a 73-51 win over Maryland , number 8, on Saturday night at Legacy Arena.

Miller missed his first three shots on Saturday and didn’t score his first field goal of the tournament until 6:44 of the first half. The five-star rookie struggled into the game with a persistent groin injury sustained during last weekend’s SEC tournament and played a season-low 19 minutes in the tournament opener against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Thursday.

While multiple reports put him at about 80% health ahead of Saturday’s matchup, Miller downplayed the injury after the game.

“I’m 100%,” Miller said. “It’s just a preparation. Me and [team trainer] Clarke [Holter] physically prepared for this game. That is the biggest thing, only the preparation comes into play.”

Alabama head coach Nate Oats said his star forward was dealing with a little more than he cares to admit.

“I saw him flinch early on. He didn’t have the pop. … He definitely wasn’t 100%. He will tell you that he is 100%. He’s a tough kid. He’s going to play through a lot and not tell people how badly he’s hurt. He and Clarke have spent a lot of time together in the last 48 hours.

“Believe him much credit. He would go. It was never a question of whether he would go or not.”

Miller saw the court for 34 minutes on Saturday, slightly above his 32.7 season average. Despite leading Alabama as a scorer, he struggled to find his shot in time, shooting 5 of 17 from the floor and 2 of 6 from deep.

Whatever percentage Miller played, it was enough to make the difference for his team.

His biggest moment of the game came during a second-half sequence in which he blocked a layup attempt by Maryland’s Jahmir Young before scoring a Transition 3 at the other end. The two games created a 5-point swing that allowed Alabama to take a 40-30 lead by 15:28.

“It felt great just being out there,” Miller said. “It’s just a blessing to be out there. I think growing up as a kid, it’s a dream for all kids to be here. It’s just a blessing to be here and compete with my team.”

Alabama’s players certainly feel blessed to have the future NBA lottery on their side as well.

“He’s a warrior,” senior guard Jahvon Quinerly said. “I don’t really know where he is in terms of health right now but just not shooting the ball that well and still having 19 points, if you see that consistently from kids it shows they’re a real professional.”

Although Miller showed improvement over his first lap performance, he still has a long way to go to be firing all gears again. Quinerly believes this is the most promising part of Saturday’s show.

“It’s very encouraging because we know what he’s capable of when he’s at 100%,” Quinerly said. “I think the whole country does.”

Miller will have five days to continue recovering from his injury as Alabama (31-5) meet No. 5 seed San Diego State (29-6) for the Sweet 16 on Friday in Louisville, Ky becomes. After Saturday’s game, Oats said the team would be resting, which Miller needed, declaring it would be “fine” if he has to keep the forward out of a few practices next week.

“I think it’s just a matter of our focus,” Miller said. “That was a great win tonight. I think we’ll come in tomorrow and probably get our bodies back together and just start with the basics to get ready for San Diego State.


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