TideIllustrated – “Warrior” Brandon Miller plays through the pain to lead Alabama to the Sweet 16

Birmingham, Ala. – It took over 50 minutes of basketball, but Brandon Miller was finally starting to look like his old self during this year’s NCAA Tournament.

After being held scoreless during No. 1 seed Alabama’s first round victory over No. 16th seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, SEC Player of the Year, led the Crimson Tide to the Sweet 16, recording 19 points and seven rebounds in a 73-51 win over No. 8th seed Maryland Saturday night inside Legacy Arena.

Miller missed his first three shots on Saturday and didn’t score his first field goal of the tournament until 6:44 left in the first half. The five-star freshman entered the game with a groin injury he suffered during the SEC tournament last weekend and played 19 minutes during the tournament opener against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Thursday.

While many reports placed him at near 80% health prior to Saturday’s game, Miller played down injury after the game.

“I’m 100%,” Miller said. “It’s just preparation. Me and [team trainer] Clark [Holter] Physically ready for this game. That’s the most important thing, just getting ready to go into the match.”

Alabama coach Nate Oates said his star forward has been dealing with a little more than he’s willing to admit.

“I saw him kind of wince early on. He didn’t have the dummy. … He definitely wasn’t 100%. He’s 100% he’ll tell you. He’s a tough kid. He’ll play through some things and not let people know how much he’s hurting. He and Clark spent Lots of time together over the past 48 hours.

“Give him a lot of credit. He was going. There was never any doubt as to whether he was going or not.”

Miller saw the field for 34 minutes on Saturday, just over his season average of 32.7. Despite leading Alabama in scoring, he struggled to find his shot in time, shooting 5-of-17 from the floor and 2-of-6 from deep.

Whatever percentage Miller played, it was enough to make a difference for his team.

His biggest moment of the game came during a second half sequence that saw him deflect a layup attempt from Maryland’s Jahmir Young before nailing a transition 3 on the other end. The two plays created a 5-point swing that allowed Alabama to take a 40-30 lead with 15:28 to play.

“I just felt great just being there,” said Miller. “It’s just a blessing to be there. I think growing up as a kid, it’s a dream for all kids to be here. It’s just a blessing to be here and compete with my team.”

Alabama players certainly feel lucky to have a future NBA lottery pick on their side, too.

“He’s a warrior,” said Senior Guard Jahon Quinnerly. “I don’t really know where he’s at right now health-wise, but just to not hit the ball well and still end up with 19 points, when you see that constantly from kids, it shows they’re really professionals.”

While Miller has shown improvement from his first-round performance, he still has ways to get back to shooting all gears. Quinnerly thinks this is the most promising part of Saturday’s show.

“It’s very encouraging because we know what he can do when he’s at 100 percent,” Quinnerly said. “I think this whole country does.”

Miller will have five days to recover from his injury as Alabama (31-5) prepares to face no. 5-ranked San Diego State (29-6) on Friday in Louisville, Kentucky for the Sweet 16. After Saturday’s game, Oates said the team will rest in need of Miller, stating that it would be “good” if he had to continue as a forward. Or a few exercises next week.

“I think it’s just about focus,” Miller said. “That was a nice win tonight. I think we’ll come in tomorrow and maybe get our bodies back together and just start from the basics to prepare for San Diego State.”

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