After beating some minor competition to start the season, Alabama basketball was equally up against one of the Big Ten bullies Thursday night. Facing its first real test of the year, No. 18 Crimson Tide outscored No. 12 Michigan State, 81-70, to open play in the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon.
The win keeps Alabama in the winners bracket, where they face #20 UConn on Friday at 8:30 PM CT. A win in that game would see the Crimson Tide play for the tournament championship against #1 ranked North Carolina or Iowa State on Sunday.
Brandon Miller once again led the Crimson Tide, posting 24 points and nine rebounds while shooting 8-of-19, including 4-of-7 from deep.
With the win, Alabama improve to 5-0 for the first time since the 2017-18 season. Here are three takeaways from the game.
More time than Miller
Alabama fans, enjoy Brandon Miller while you have it. Five-star freshman isn’t long for this level. Playing on the biggest stage of his early college career, Miller looked out of place Thursday night, not because he couldn’t keep up with the Power Five competition, but rather because his polished approach seems already ready for the NBA.
Miller was a man among the boys, walking an Alabama team that started the game cold off the floor. The freshman forward recorded 17 rebounds and five in the first half, hitting a buzzer-beating 3 to send the Crimson Tide into a fast break with a 42-37 lead.
“I feel like the 3 I hit [at the half] it was definitely an energy boost for me and, I guess, for the team,” Miller said. “I feel like we could have started better, but things happen. That was the game changer.”
After getting off to a strong start, Alabama’s offense collapsed midway through the first half, allowing Michigan State to lead by as many as 7 points. With the Crimson Tide trailing, 30-25, at the end of the half, Miller took matters into his own hands, providing a 6-0 solo run by hitting one shot and one free throw before sinking a 3 to bring Alabama on the lead.
After his 3 hitting the buzzer at the half, Miller drained another shot from deep to give Alabama a commanding 50-41 lead with 17:22 remaining. The Crimson Tide didn’t look back from there, aiming for an easy win.
In addition to his offensive performance, Miller earned the team’s Hard Hat Award given to the player with the most “workman” points.
“It’s not just about shooting the ball, playing well, it’s also gone downhill,” Oats said. “He got to the free throw line, converted to the free throw line. All in all, he had a pretty good game. He needs to play well for us to be at our best, and he did.”
Alabama demonstrates its tenacity down below
Heading into Thursday night’s game, Oats openly questioned whether his team would be able to maintain their early season strength against a Michigan State team known for its physicality. Alabama entered the game leading the nation in rebounds per game (56.0), offensive rebounds per game (19.5), and rebounding margin (24.5). However, the Crimson Tide’s previous opponents were no match for Tom Izzo’s typical Spartans squads.
It turns out that Alabama also has the muscle to pound with the nation’s bigwigs. The Crimson Tide was outscored 42-40 but outscored the Spartans 38-30 in the paint.
Alabama’s ability to score near the rim kept him in the game going into the game. Ten of the Crimson Tide’s first 11 field goals came on dunks or layups which helped offset a 1-for-8 start from beyond the arc.
A couple of great performances off the bench
Alabama’s depth was always going to be key in a tournament that featured three quality matchups over the span of four games. The Crimson Tide benefited from his large roster Thursday night as his bench outlasted 24-13 Michigan State.
Noah Gurley had a season-high 12 points with four rebounds in 25 minutes. Meanwhile, Jahvon Quinerly recorded his first double-digit game since returning from a torn ACL, scoring 10 points in 18 minutes.