By: Will Miller
TUSCALOOSA, Ala.– Brandon Miller returned to the scoring column, and the Alabama men’s basketball team is returning to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three seasons.
The No. 1 seed Crimson Tide (31-5) defeated eighth-seeded Maryland 73-51 in a game that was not its best performance, but was enough to punch the team’s ticket to Louisville. The Terrapins had the early advantage and were not truly out of it until the game’s late stages, but Alabama pulled through on the strength of a plus-12 rebounding margin, much-improved defense and a trio of double-figure scorers.
“We can control our effort on defense,” freshman guard Jaden Bradley said. “That’s something we harped on, and today it really showed.”
It is rare that a team is able to not have its best day on the offensive side and still win an NCAA Tournament game, but that’s what the Crimson Tide found a way to do on Saturday night.
“The start of the game wasn’t what we wanted,” head coach Nate Oats said. “We hung in there. Our defense picked up from there… Our offense struggled at times tonight.”
Oats touched on the performances of Jahvon Quinerly and Charles Bediako. Quinerly had 22 points, and helped Alabama find its rhythm from the perimeter late. Bediako, the winner of the Hard Hat award, posted a double-double with 10 each in points and rebounds. His play helped extend what was a five-point halftime lead into a dominant margin of victory, especially without long-range shots going in at a high rate.
“[Charles]” was big,” Oats said. “I thought he was outstanding on the glass and on defense.”
“I don’t think it’s sank in yet,” Bediako said of his team’s berth in the regional semifinals. “Hearing that I’m going to the Sweet 16 with my brothers, it’s just crazy.”
Miller, who was held off the scoreboard in the Round of 64, put up 19 points and seven rebounds. He had a highlight moment in the second half featuring an emphatic block and a three-pointer on the other end. He still wasn’t at one hundred percent, but played at a high level.
“I knew exactly what he [Maryland’s Jahmir Young] was going to do just from film. I watched a lot, studied him. [I] kind of met him on the backboard, and in transition, we really look to push and run,” Miller said. “I feel like I just found an open space to get a three up.”
Neither team had its best night from a field goal percentage standpoint, with both squads failing to reach 30% or greater from beyond the arc. Six of Alabama’s 21 attempts from three point land went down. Quinerly hit four. The Terrapins had just one during the entire game. The Crimson Tide shot 40% from the field overall. The 44-32 rebounding advantage in Alabama’s favor played a crucial role.
The game might have tipped off late in the evening, but that did not stop the Birmingham crowd from making an impact on the result. The fans were loud, and as one might expect, largely pro-Alabama. Saturday night’s game was the grand finale for Legacy Arena at the 2023 NCAA Tournament, and the Birmingham portion of the spectacle lived up to its billing.
“The fans were huge in this game,” said Bradley. “When we were down early, the fans got us in it. We’re gonna miss them, but now we’re gonna have to create our own energy [in Louisville]… It’s big that we kind of got going early, but we’re going to miss the fans.”
Texas Tech transfer Nimari Burnett said the support from the fans in the Magic City extended beyond just game time, and that supporters were present at the team hotel and at practice.
“Playing in front of our home fans, whether in Tuscaloosa or Birmingham, the fans that came from Tuscaloosa to here, the fans that already live here- just excited to have them a part of this. I thank them for coming out and supporting us each and every night… They’re a big part of our success and we appreciate them. Roll Tide.”
The March Madness journey for Alabama continues, and the next stop is a regional semifinal date with fifth-seeded San Diego State. The Aztecs have defeated Charleston and Furman to reach this point. The game is set for Friday, March 24, inside the KFC Yum! Center.