Miller shines, No. 4 Alabama defeats Memphis 91-88

Mathey Gibson, Staff Reporter

When Penny Hardaway comes to town, all eyes turn to the hardwood. 

On Tuesday night, No. 4 Alabama defeated the Memphis Tigers 91-88 behind a blistering second-half effort from freshman Brandon Miller. 

Prior to the game, the team announced that guard Nimari Burnett is out indefinitely with a wrist injury he sustained during practice. The redshirt sophomore underwent surgery on Tuesday and is expected to make a full recovery, with a return timetable of six to eight weeks. 

“We lost Nimari for a while with the broken wrist,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said on the pregame Crimson Tide Sports Network show. “I think we’re deeper this year to be able to handle that sort of thing a little better.”  

With Burnett’s injury, the first shakeup of the season to the Alabama starting five was set into motion, with freshman Jaden Bradley getting the nod in his place. 

Early on, both teams were out of sorts offensively, turning the ball over five times a piece in 10 minutes. 

Lockdown defense remained a theme throughout the first half, with the Crimson Tide holding the Tigers to a mere 35% from the floor and 0% from three (13-37 FG, 0-2 3PT) — good enough for a 36-33 lead at the break. 

Leading the way for Alabama was Mark Sears, who poured in 12 first-half points on 3-for-4 shooting from the field and hitting 1-of-2 shots from behind the arc. The Muscle Shoals, Alabama, product also hit five shots from the charity stripe. 

To start the second half, it looked like it might be another rough night for Brandon Miller, who sat with 3 points on 1-for-4 shooting at the 14-minute mark.  

That didn’t last long, though, as the freshman All-American candidate caught fire, finishing with 24 points on 7-for-13 shooting and drilling four of his eight attempts from downtown.  

“I think he wants to win,” Oats said. “He’s a kid that’s really invested in Alabama basketball.” 

In the absence of Burnett, it was Bradley and forward Darius Miles who stepped up to the plate, providing a pair of gutsy performances against Memphis’ length and versatility. 

Miles, who had not scored a basket prior to Tuesday night’s contest, finished with seven points on 2-for-3 shooting — providing a spark off the bench for the Crimson Tide. 

“[Miles] brought the energy,” Sears said. “Really just life. Everybody played harder when he was on the floor.” 

It was a productive night from the Alabama frontcourt, with Noah Clowney putting up a respectable 11-point, nine-rebound, three-block night before fouling out — securing the postgame hard hat award. Counterparts Noah Gurley and Charles Bediako followed suit, combining for 15 points and 13 rebounds. 

While Clowney and company shone on defense, it didn’t stop fifth year dynamo Kendric Davis from having his way offensively for the Tigers, scoring 30 points on 11-for-22 shooting and giving the Crimson Tide all it could handle with his shiftiness and shot-making ability. 

Davis, last week’s national player of the week, sparked a late comeback for Memphis— putting the Tigers within striking distance during the game’s final minutes. 

In the end, it was late-game free throw shooting and a pair of buckets from Miller that sunk the Tigers’ ship, with Memphis hitting its only three of the game with 0.5 seconds remaining to turn a six-point loss into a three-point loss. 

For Oats, he knows battles like this one will make his team better come crunch time. 

“The goal is to be playing your best basketball come February and March,” Oats said. “Our guys know they didn’t play very well. They’re all locked in to getting better. When you play tough teams, you figure out your strengths and weaknesses easier.” 

Now standing at 9-1, Alabama will set its sights on yet another rematch from last season, with the Gonzaga Bulldogs coming to Birmingham for the C.M. Newton classic. 

Tipoff for No. 4 Alabama and No. 15 Gonzaga at Legacy arena is set for Saturday, Dec. 17, at 12:00 p.m. on CBS. 

Questions or comments? Email Blake Byler (Sports Editor) at [email protected]