By: Will Miller
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The Alabama men’s basketball team has had some rough results in recent games played at Legacy Arena, but Thursday afternoon’s March Madness opener wasn’t one of them. The emphatic 96-75 victory was Alabama’s 30th win of the season.
The Crimson Tide, the top-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament, defeated First Four winners Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. It’s the second school Alabama has beaten this week with ‘Texas A&M’ in its name. Fans in and around Birmingham, Ala., eagerly anticipated the tournament’s return to the city in the renovated Legacy Arena, and those clad in crimson saw a clinic.
Alabama was so dominant that it led by 20 points at the half- without star freshman forward Brandon Miller scoring a single point. He didn’t score at all during the game, and the Crimson Tide still won by 21.
“It was a good offensive game,” said head coach Nate Oats. “Our defense has to get a lot better by Saturday. It was nice to come out and make some shots… Having great depth on this team only makes us one of the best teams in the country, and I think it showed today.”
Miller’s performance was in stark contrast to his 36 points on Dec. 17 in the same building against Gonzaga. According to Oats, he’s still nursing a groin injury sustained during last weekend’s SEC Tournament. Stepping up to lead Alabama in the scoring column was Nick Pringle, who double-doubled off the bench with 19 points and 15 rebounds. He won the Hard Hat Award for his efforts.
“We’ve got a great group of guys,” Pringle said. “Next man up mentality… It’s [my performance] really a dream come true.”
Mark Sears had 15 points, and during one sequence connected on three straight three-pointers.
“The energy today was unbelievable,” Sears said. “We played off the energy, and that really helped us get off to a strong start… The momentum of us being SEC Tournament champions really gave us a big boost coming into this tournament, especially being right at home.”
The other Alabama players to score in double figures were Jahvon Quinerly, Noah Clowney and Nimari Burnett. The Crimson Tide had 49 bench points- a massive statistic when one of the country’s best players was completely absent from the scoring column.
“I feel like, defensively, we could have been a little bit better,” said Quinerly. “I’m happy with the contributions off the bench… Guys kind of filled the void for the 20 points a game that Brandon Miller’s been getting for us all year, and I’m just looking forward to next round.”
Alabama hit 15 threes during Thursday’s game, answering early questions on whether it could pick up its output from beyond the arc to open play in the Big Dance. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi had seven, along with three double-figure scorers. Putting 70 or more points on Alabama has been a somewhat rare occurrence this season, but it wasn’t enough for the 16-seed to send massive shockwaves through an already-turbulent bracket.
The Crimson Tide also used physicality to haul in nearly 50 rebounds, and the 48 it posted was four more than the Islanders managed. Alabama also shared the ball, with 21 assists.
“I think the ball has been moving- shows how unselfish our guys are,” Oats said.
No. 8-seed Maryland is next on the NCAA Tournament slate for Alabama. The Terrapins, who met the 2020-21 dual conference champion Alabama during that same round, beat West Virginia 67-65 on Thursday to advance. The Round of 32 matchup is set for Saturday.