No. 1 Alabama falls to fifth-seeded San Diego State 71-64, concludes season in stunning loss

Mathey Gibson, Staff Reporter

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The buzz surrounding the Alabama men’s basketball program reached an all-time high heading into the NCAA Tournament. 

If there was ever a year for the Crimson Tide to cut down the nets in March, this was supposed to be the season. 

After all, no team in college basketball appeared fully equipped to topple Nate Oats’ fourth-year squad after their impressive blitz during the regular season. 

Led by freshman sensation Brandon Miller and company, Alabama swept the SEC for the second time in three years. Heading into the weekend, the nation’s No. 1 overall seed had handled their competition with relative ease, defeating 16-seed Texas A&M University Corpus-Christi 96-75 in the Round of 64 and shellacking 8-seed University of Maryland 73-51 in Birmingham’s Round of 32. 

Sometimes, though, great dejection often follows the mountaintop of blissful enthusiasm. 

On Friday, No. 1 Alabama fell to the No. 18 San Diego State University Aztecs 71-64 after a disastrous offensive performance which saw the Crimson Tide shoot 11% from beyond the arc.  

It was a rough outing for Miller, who scored a meager nine points on 3-for-19 shooting, making only one of his 10 attempts from downtown. 

Miller, a projected lottery pick in the 2023 NBA draft, shot the lowest field goal percentage of any player with at least 35 attempts in the NCAA tournament since 1985, standing at 19.5% (8-for-41). 

Things didn’t get much easier for fellow freshman Noah Clowney, who scored three points on 1-for-6 shooting. 

Clowney, a 6-foot-10 forward from Roebuck, South Carolina, grabbed eight rebounds, but fouled out by game’s end, unable to match the physicality of the Aztecs. 

At the 11:40 mark of the second half, the Crimson Tide found themselves in the driver’s seat, leading by nine after trailing 28-23 at the break.  

That’s when things began to fall apart.  

A 12-0 run by the Aztecs, led by sharp-shooter Darrion Trammell, stunned the Alabama-heavy crowd. Before you could blink, Brian Dutcher’s squad managed to grab a nine-point lead of their own with two minutes left in the game.  

With a minute to go, a pair of layups by junior Mark Sears cut the lead to 66-64, but it was too little, too late as San Diego State’s Matt Bradley and Micah Parrish converted free throws down the stretch to seal the Crimson Tide’s fate at the KFC Yum! Center. 

“I mean, we had an unbelievable year,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “Everybody is really disappointed in the loss. It ended too soon. San Diego State is a very good team. When you get to the Sweet 16, you know, all the teams are good at this point. You know, they’re [a] tough, physical, veteran group. It’s a huge accomplishment to get to the Sweet 16.” 

While the Crimson Tide fell short of their lofty expectations, sentimentalism was abundant in droves.  

“It’s a great group that really loves each other,” Oats said. “I mean, they’re going to be close for life, most of them. You know, I love the group, they love each other, and it’s just really disappointing that it’s ending early. But I think it’s one of the most memorable seasons in Alabama history, and they can walk out of here with their heads up.” 

Even Miller, who struggled for much of the tournament, was able to crack a smile postgame. 

“It’s definitely tough,” Miller said. “You know, just playing around these guys, working hard every day in practice, to fall short, I think, it’s not — it’s a bad feeling now, but I feel like our bond is too close to break. So, I feel like after this we probably are just going to go and make our bond even stronger. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have somebody in someone’s weddings in the future, so, I mean, it’s just a bond that you can’t break.” 

As for next season’s prospects? It’s time to wipe the slate clean in Tuscaloosa.  

“It’s one of those deals where I’m going to go back to the drawing board and see what I can get better at,” Oats said. “We’re going to try to recruit really good players. A lot of programs would love to be in the NCAA Tournament three straight years. A lot of them would have loved to have won the SEC regular season tournament twice in the last three years. We’re doing pretty good things at Alabama, and we’re going to continue to get better.” 

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