Brandon Miller, Alabama use second-half scoring flurry to surge past Missouri and into SEC tournament final

Brandon Miller and Alabama will play for the SEC tournament title.

Miller and the Crimson Tide found themselves in a hard-fought matchup with Missouri in the SEC semifinals Saturday in Nashville but were able to pull away in the second half.

Miller, who posted 20 points and 12 rebounds, set Alabama’s program record for single-season points by a freshman while helping the Tide emerge with a 72-61 victory. Alabama already won the SEC regular season championship and are pretty much assured of a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Now Alabama can add the conference tournament title to its resume when it takes on the winner of Vanderbilt and Texas A&M on Sunday.

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Alabama jumped out to an early lead but struggled with its outside shooting. The Tide hit just 2-of-15 3-point attempts in the first half and Missouri closed the half with a scoring flurry, cutting what was a 10-point deficit into just a 31-29 score at the break thanks to an off-balance triple from D’Moi Hodge right before the halftime buzzer.

Missouri even took the lead briefly to open the second half. The Tigers jumped up by four and held onto a narrow lead through the first seven minutes of the second half as Alabama shooters remained cold.

But then things changed. Miller, the subject of off-court controversy, hit back-to-back 3-pointers and then Noah Gurley added another. All of a sudden, Alabama was up by eight, 50-42, with 9:47 to play.

That quick 9-0 flurry from Alabama was too much for Missouri to overcome. The Tigers cut the deficit to six three different times, including with 4:09 to play, but were never able to make a big enough run to retake the lead.

Alabama forward Brandon Miller drives into the lane during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Saturday, March 11, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Alabama won 72-61. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Alabama forward Brandon Miller led the Crimson Tide to an SEC tournament semifinal win over Missouri on Saturday. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Alabama made six of its final seven 3-pointers. It proved to be the difference down the stretch, as did the Tide’s defensive effort.

Missouri shot just 33.8% from the field, including 7-of-25 from long distance. And though it struggled from beyond the arc (8-of-27), Alabama shot 49.1% overall from the field. Included in that effort was a sizzling 20-of-30 (66.7%) on two-pointers.

Alabama has been one of the nation’s best teams but has been the subject of much controversy since it was revealed in a Tuscaloosa courtroom that Miller, a likely NBA lottery pick, was at the scene of a killing involving former teammate Darius Miles and another man. Fellow freshman Jaden Bradley was also said to be at the scene, but police testified that Miller transported the gun — which belonged to Miles — used in the fatal shooting.

Miller has continued to play, with the university saying he is a cooperating witness, not a suspect in the case. The Crimson Tide struggled some down the stretch of the regular season but has now posted back-to-back convincing victories in the conference tournament.

Alabama took care of Mississippi State, 72-49, Friday before dispatching Missouri.