No. 4 Alabama finishes off SEC title double dip at tourney
By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Brandon Miller walked along the front row, celebrating and slapping high-fives with family and friends. Even his high school coach was in the building.
Playing in his hometown certainly made the Southeastern Conference Tournament a friendly location for the league's best player and tourney MVP - a freshman who also finds himself fielding questions about his off-court actions in January.
Miller scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds as fourth-ranked Alabama smothered No. 18 Texas A&M 82-63 on Sunday for the Crimson Tide's second SEC Tournament championship in three seasons.
“It means a lot just to have my family come just five minutes down the road to watch me play ...,” Miller said. "The fun part is just really going out and getting a win with my guys in the SEC championship.”
It was the Crimson Tide's second SEC double dip in three seasons, having picked up their regular-season trophy Friday. The Tide (29-5) extended the program record for wins while adding its eighth tournament title in its 15th appearance; both second only to Kentucky in the SEC.
Alabama coach Nate Oats said sweeping the SEC twice in three years with totally different teams speaks to the talent they've recruited.
“We're fortunate to have the best player on the floor this year every time we walked out with Brandon,” Oats said of the AP All-SEC player and newcomer of the year.
Miller was greeted by a roaring crowd that was filled with Alabama fans during pre-game introductions, then posted his ninth double-double of the season.
“He’s a mismatch nightmare,” Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said of Miller. “Who’s going to guard him? He can pass, dribble and shoot. He’s a position-less player that has size. He has that same versatility on that other end.”
Miller has been a driving force for Alabama all season as it chases a top seeding in the NCAA Tournament. But the team also is dealing with the fallout of former Tide player Darius Miles and another man being indicted on capital murder charges for the January shooting death of 23-year-old Jamea Harris.
In February, an investigator testified that Miles texted Miller to bring him his gun. Police also said that Jaden Bradley also was at the scene. Neither Miller nor Bradley have been charged, and both have been playing - Miller, especially.
Oats said the team never loses sight of the tragedy, saying “it's always there.”
“But today with the team we’re going to celebrate this win without losing sight of that. Moving forward, we’re going to try to keep the team focused on the task at hand, just like we have, without ever losing sight of the fact it’s an unbelievably sad situation.”
Jahvon Quinerly, who was 0-of-9 shooting with one point in the semifinal, scored 13 of his 22 points in the first half. Charles Bediako had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Tide.
The second-seeded Aggies (25-9) dropped to 0-3 in the tournament finale, losing for a second straight year. Dexter Dennis led Texas A&M with 14 points, Wade Taylor IV had 13 and Tyrece Radford 12.
Alabama snapped a five-game skid to Texas A&M, which included a 67-61 loss in College Station on March 4 in the regular season.
“Just a different atmosphere, totally different game for a championship,” Taylor said of the difference between the two games.
Mark Sears opened with a 3-pointer, and Alabama never trailed, making four of its first six 3s. The Tide led by as many as 33-17 with 4:10 left on a pair of free throws by Miller and 34-23 at halftime.
The Aggies could not knock down shots, shooting a season-low 29.7% (19-of-64) from the floor, and never got closer than nine in the second half.
The Tide padded their lead to as much as 25 before Oats pulled his starters.
Texas A&M: The best the Aggies could do in the first half was force a shot clock violation with 1:37 left. The SEC leader in free throws attempted - and among only three teams nationally with more than 800 free throws attempted this season - made 20-of-24 at the line. It wasn't nearly enough.
Alabama: Oats improved to 6-1 in the SEC Tournament, and his winning percentage is second since 1979 only to Rick Pitino who went 17-1 for a 94.4% mark at Kentucky. ... The Tide also improved to 9-0 in Nashville under Oats, including 6-0 at Bridgestone Arena where the SEC Tournament is scheduled to be held through 2030 with an option to extend to 2035.
Texas A&M: Now turns its attention to what should be Williams' first NCAA Tournament berth in his fourth season there after the Aggies were snubbed last year.
Alabama: Polished off its case for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament after No. 3 Kansas lost in the Big 12 Tournament title game.
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
Updated March 12, 2023