NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Alabama basketball team has faced some tough challenges this season, whether it’s a 15-point comeback on the road against Houston or a grueling four-overtime win over North Carolina.
Tuesday night, however, presented a very different kind of challenge.
Forward Darius Miles was arrested on Sunday afternoon and charged with capital murder after victim Jamea Jonae Harris died early Sunday morning. Miles was immediately removed as a member of the Alabama men’s basketball team.
Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats acknowledged there would be a healing process for his team following the news.
“There were a lot of hugs last night,” Oats told media on Monday. “Everyone understands the situation. Everyone is familiar with the offers on campus and use them through our sports medicine department for such situations.”
Before Tuesday’s game against Vanderbilt, Alabama rolled onto the court. The Crimson Tide had won six straight games, all by double digits. Suddenly, however, that momentum felt halted as basketball felt insignificant.
“I didn’t necessarily see a lot of emotion before the game,” Oats said after the game. “I thought the boys locked themselves in and were ready to go. Almost like ‘let’s use basketball as a kind of liberation’ if that makes sense.”
Alabama’s game reflected Oats’ assessment of her pregame mental state.
The Crimson Tide secured a 78-66 win led by star freshman Brandon Miller, who scored 30 points in the game – his second straight game with at least 30 points.
Alabama led by as much as 20 points in the second half after leading by 10 at halftime. There were times when Vanderbilt tried to make a comeback, but each time the Crimson Tide found ways to respond and keep the Commodores at bay.
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When the clock struck three zeros and Alabama came off the floor with a 12-point win, the scene in the locker room was very different.
“I saw some guys collapse after the game,” Oats said. “I think they bottled some stuff. […] It’s almost like a great relief. The game is over and we can breathe a sigh of relief.”
While the team’s in-game performance and reaction to the week’s events is admirable, Oats understands that the healing process won’t happen overnight.
“I think the guys still need some time. They’re going to need a lot of time,” Oats said. “The guys used the resources with the school and the counselors. I think more of them will see some advisors tomorrow, it’s a tough situation for these guys to go through.”
If the 2022-23 Alabama basketball team is certain of one thing, it’s that it’s full of mentally strong players.
“We have a mentally strong group. They’re young but they’re quite strong mentally,” said Oats. “We closed there for a while tonight with four freshmen on the floor. […] I thought even though they’re freshmen, they showed some mental toughness. They take things seriously, they study the game. I think it shows.”
Even after an unprecedented and incomparable stone was hurled in this team’s path, the players once again faced what was perhaps their toughest challenge yet.
The challenges don’t let up, however. Next, Alabama travels to Columbia to face Missouri at Mizzou Arena, a venue the Crimson Tide has yet to win at since the Oats took over in 2019.
“They’ve been through a lot emotionally, mentally and psychologically,” Oats said. “I wasn’t expecting a perfect game, but we have to get better.”
Tipoff between No. 4 Alabama and Missouri is scheduled for Saturday at 5 p.m. CT and will air on the SEC Network.
Miller, No. 4 Alabama Win Ugly at Vanderbilt