TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Brandon Miller and No. 2 Alabama eked out another close win in a week that has proved challenging on and off the court.
Miller scored 24 points and Mark Sears made 7 of 8 free throws over the final 1:04 to help No. 2 Alabama secure an 86-83 victory over Arkansas on Saturday, following an overtime win at South Carolina on Wednesday.
Miller delivered his second straight huge game since police alleged in courtroom testimony that Miller brought a gun to former teammate Darius Miles, who is charged with capital murder in a fatal shooting.
The week’s details cast a different light on Miller’s regular pregame introduction, which is a Tide staffer giving him a pat down. That, coach Nate Oats said, is over.
“I think that’s something that’s been going on all year,” Oats said to open his postgame news conference. “I don’t watch our introductions. I’m not involved with them. I’m drawing up plays at that time. Regardless, it’s not appropriate. It’s been addressed, and I can assure you it definitely will not happen again the remainder of this year.”
Miller received a warmer reception at home than in South Carolina, where he heard chants of “lock him up” and “guilty” a day after testimony about the gun, which was allegedly used by another man in the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Jamea Harris on Jan. 15.
Miller hasn’t been accused of or charged with any crime — or missed any playing time. Miller’s attorney said Miller never handled the gun and that it had been left in his back seat. Police also said another Alabama player, guard Jaden Bradley, was at the scene. He started Saturday’s game and did not score.
No players were made available and Oats declined to answer questions on the shooting case.
But there was plenty on the court to talk about.
Miller’s fellow freshman Nick Smith Jr. of Arkansas (19-10, 8-8 Southeastern Conference), another potential NBA draft lottery pick who helped keep the Razorbacks in it with a late 3-pointer, also scored 24 points.
Miller helped key a 15-0 run for Alabama (25-4, 15-1) by scoring six straight points and eight total for a 56-46 lead midway through the second half — just the second lead of the game for the Tide. Arkansas missed eight straight shots and four consecutive free throws during that span after leading most of the way.
“We really struggled to start the second half,” Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman said. “That was the difference in the game, was a stretch there to start the second half.”
The Razorbacks surged back with 20 points over the final 2:48, and Smith netted a 3 with 10 seconds left to make it 85-83. Rylan Griffen made the second of two free throws and Ricky Council IV’s potential tying 3 attempt bounced off the rim.
Davonte Davis had 21 points for Arkansas, Council scored 20, and the rest of the team combined for 18 points.
Miller, who scored 41 against South Carolina on Wednesday, missed his first five 3-point attempts while the team got off to a 1-for-20 start. He finally hit one with three minutes left.
Oats said Miller may be the most mentally tough player he has ever coached.
He said his star freshman “completely understands that the situation is tragic, and he takes it very seriously,” then added: “He’s got a special way about getting locked in to where he’s currently at, whether it’s practice or games or whatever. He’s been able to do that this week.”
Jahvon Quinerly had 16 points and seven assists for the Tide.
“We don’t win the game if he doesn’t play the way he does in the second half,” Oats said. “We don’t have a chance.”
Noah Clowney produced 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Arkansas held Alabama to only three 3s but the Tide scored 52 points in the paint.
“You’re not going to take away both,” Musselman said. “You’re not going to do it. That’s why they’re ranked second in the country.”
The Razorbacks used a 9-0 run followed by Smith’s baseline jumper with 6 seconds left to take a 37-28 halftime lead. It was the Tide’s lowest scoring first half since trailing No. 1 Houston 31-27 on Dec. 10 before rallying to win.
Arkansas: Once a top 10 team, the Razorbacks couldn’t pull off a third straight win. Arkansas kept it much closer than the earlier 84-69 Alabama win when Smith was out with a knee injury.
Alabama: Dominated the boards in the second half 26-14 after both teams collected 22 rebounds in the first. Made 3 of 22 3-pointers (14%).
A total of 34 representatives from 18 NBA teams were issued credentials for the showdown between Miller and Smith, who are arguably the two top prospects from the college ranks.
Arkansas: Visits No. 11 Tennessee on Tuesday night.
Alabama: Hosts in-state rival Auburn on Wednesday night.