Alabama locked down the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history despite dealing with a serious situation off the court.
Standout freshman forward Brandon Miller and the Crimson Tide (29-5) will try to put aside their distractions Thursday when they meet 16th-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in a South Region first-round game in Birmingham, Ala.
According to police, Miller provided the gun that was used in the Jan. 15 killing of 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris. Former Alabama player Darius Miles is one of two men charged with capital murder in the case.
Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats has stuck by Miller, the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
“We’ve known the situation since (it happened),” Oats said. “We’ve been fully cooperating with law enforcement the entire time. The whole situation is sad.
“Can’t control everything anybody does outside of practice. Nobody knew that was going to happen. … Brandon hasn’t been in any type of trouble nor is he in any type of trouble in this case. Wrong spot at the wrong time.”
Opposing fans have often directed crude chants at Miller, but with Thursday’s game being in Birmingham, Oats is hoping for an environment similar to the one that the Crimson Tide played in during Sunday’s SEC tournament title game in Nashville, Tenn.
“The Roll Tide fans showed up,” Oats said. “We need them to show up even stronger in Birmingham. It might have been 75 percent in Nashville — we need that be about 95 percent, maybe 99 percent, up in Birmingham.
“We need everybody to find their way into that arena and get themselves a ticket and support us.”
Such support could cause havoc for the Islanders (24-10), who punched their ticket to the first round with a narrow 75-71 victory over Southeast Missouri State on Tuesday in a First Four matchup.
It was Corpus Christi’s first NCAA Tournament win in program history.
“It means everything,” Islanders guard Ross Williams said of being a part of the team to accomplish the feat. “And being able to do this with my brothers, it means the world.”
With his team riding a five-game winning streak — including the Southland tournament championship — and carrying some momentum into Thursday’s contest, Corpus Christi coach Steve Lutz is eager to square off against a No. 1 seed.
“They’re a No. 1 seed for a reason. They’ve got really good players. They’re well-coached,” Lutz said of Alabama. “With that being said, we played Arizona, we played Mississippi State at Mississippi State, and both those games there were times during the game, especially in the first half, where we were leading the game.
“Our guys are battle tested. They’re not scared of the moment. You’ve got to go play. You’ve got to embrace it.”
Trevian Tennyson paces the Islanders with 15.6 points per game, while Isaac Mushila has averages of 14.4 points and 9.7 rebounds.
Miller averages team highs of 19.6 points and 8.3 boards per game for the Crimson Tide, who lost to Notre Dame in the first round of last year’s tourney.
–Field Level Media