Brandon Miller could have let those two points get away with him, but that is not the attitude of the Alabama basketball team.
Every field goal from here is contested, and every moment on defense inside Coleman Coliseum now feels like healing and something to thank. Students and fans are standing by this team, and helping how they can. That’s the message they delivered on Wednesday at Coleman Coliseum, and the team effort matched the magnitude of the moment.
Like he has done so many times this season, Miller provided his signature expression of his team’s experience. He’s already had plenty of highlights, but Miller’s chase-down block during Alabama’s 66-63 win against Mississippi State is one NBA general manager will remember when draft night comes around.
Connected: Alabama survived a scare from Mississippi State
good man: Saban, Here’s The Key Moment For Alabama
good man: Jalen Hurts shows the power of determination
good man: Mortensen Hire Is a Resounding Victory for UAB
Although Alabama will remember it differently. It was the first home game for the basketball team since the shooting death of Jamia Harris and the manslaughter charge against former Alabama basketball player Darius Miles.
The block came after a fumble by Charles Bediako, who found himself in some trouble with 13 minutes left in the second half of Alabama’s eighth game of the conference schedule. Mississippi State was leading 45–39. Alabama finished the 2021-22 regular season with a 9-9 record in conference play, losing their first game against Mississippi State, but this team has its heart made of different things. Miller had Bediaco’s back.
It was time to cover for his teammate.
It was time to give the defense a fumble so that it could go with all its might on the offense.
When players are trapped on the wing or near the corner of the defense, they are taught to kick back at the top of the key. Bediaco tried, but Mississippi State’s DeShaun Davis anticipated the decision and jumped a pass and picked it up like a corner in football. It was a bad pass in traffic, and Davis ran through the steal on his way straight to the basket.
It was a key game inside a desperate game for Mississippi State, which has a very good team this season but doesn’t have much to show for it so far except a solid net ranking of 62. Alabama is No. 3 in the net behind Houston and Tennessee, so a state win would have been like a golden ticket for the Bulldogs on Selection Sunday.
Yes, but no.
Not on this night.
Not against this Alabama.
Not with Wolves Brandon Miller chasing from behind.
Risking injury, Miller blocked Davis’s layup attempt against the glass. He then came down awkwardly, feet sliding as he bent his head to avoid the backboard. He’s 6-9 and a shooting guard. He leads the conference in points per game (19.5), three-pointers made (64) and three-point shooting percentage (45.1). That’s all great, but it’s a block of Wednesday nights in January that could be the difference between going second in the draft and eighth.
And it’s certainly the type of play that could make the difference in Alabama being the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and winning the SEC regular season championship.
Wolf isn’t taking this team for granted and the Crimson Tide were not losing to Mississippi State despite trailing by double digits in the first half after Miller’s block.
Alabama (18-2, 8-0 in SEC play) has won a lot of games this season, but this was the best stepping stone for the Magnetic Things. There will be moments in March that will be dictated by try plays and the length of the edgy cold. It’s somewhat hard for me to understand why Alabama continues to play so well after what happened, but it’s not unusual to deny the bond between these teammates. The basketball fan in me wants to dress up for the power of this season, yet I can’t help but be drawn away by the excitement surrounding a historically great team.
Processing the sudden enormity of these days has been a challenge for Alabama over the past few games. Miles was charged with the shooting death of 23-year-old Harris on Sunday, January 15. My heart aches for his family. A GoFundMe page has been set up for Harris’ five-year-old son.
How should I feel about sports being weighed against life and death? For the students at Coleman Coliseum, Wednesday’s game seemed like a balm for the pain. I salute the student body for packing up the house and showing up early. A team and a community need everyone’s support in every way.
Alabama has now played and won three games since Harris’ death. The win against Mississippi State represented the first home game for Alabama after the shooting took his life.
I’ve had the privilege of covering some of the best basketball teams in my career, and this is one of them. I also know the pain of great tragedy. To have these two things together is a shock to the orderliness of everyday life. It’s easy when everything is level. We all measure up when things aren’t flush.
There’s a mountain range stuck in the middle of this season like the Continental Divide for Alabama, and I won’t be the journalist who tries to ignore it. Harris’ death near campus haunts the team and the University of Alabama like a shadow.
Miles was charged with capital murder. He shouted through tears “I love you more” as he was transferred by police from one facility to another. Many questions remain unanswered about that night. With the help of coach Nate Oates, athletics director Greg Byrne and others, he remains strong in the face of devastation. Their players are competing together on the court and in the locker room.
Other SEC teams have also felt the weight of Alabama’s season. Vanderbilt’s Jerry Stackhouse, an NBA veteran who coaches simply because he likes helping young men, said he “couldn’t fathom we even played this game” after Alabama’s win against the Commodores. This was Alabama’s first game since Harris’ death. The fourth will be against Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman.
This may be the best team in Alabama basketball history, and it may also be the saddest. It’s a season like no other, and nothing can hold the weight of truth.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for Alabama Media Group, and author of “We Want Bama: A Season of Hope and the Creation of Nick Saban’s ‘Ultimate Team'”., you can find him on twitter @joegoodman jr,