Alabama basketball had to retrieve its depth Sunday like never before this season.
First, starter Noah Clowney left the game with an injury after playing just three minutes. Meanwhile, star scorer Brandon Miller failed to score and quickly found himself in nasty trouble.
Oh, and no 1 North Carolina was the opponent. That’s more than enough adversity for one afternoon.
Despite these challenges, No. 18 Alabama found a way to stay with UNC. In fact, the Crimson Tide led at halftime despite Miller not scoring before the break.
No problem, said Mark Sears. No problem, said Charles Bediako. Noah Gurley. Jahvon Quinerly. Jaden Bradley. Alabama got help from a variety of players to keep it closed until the last minute, forcing several overtimes.
Then, in an all-out struggle, Alabama managed to win Sunday’s fourth-overtime Phil Knight Invitational third-place game in Portland, Oregon, 103-101 against No. 1 UNC. It’s the first win for the Crimson Tide since 2004 over a No. 1 AP team.
Here are takeaways from the game between Alabama (6-1) and North Carolina (5-2).
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Mark Sears is stepping up regulation
Someone had to step up when Miller wasn’t a factor. Enter Sears.
He had the hot hand from beyond the arc early in the game. By halftime, Sears had hit four 3-pointers. In one half, he tied his game high in the Jacksonville State matchup. The Ohio transfer just missed a low point in the first half.
He led all scorers by 14 at the break and gave the Crimson Tide a 37-34 lead at halftime.
Sears hit another three later in the second half that earned a 10-0 run from UNC and put Alabama at 63-58. He sank another 3-pointer with about seven minutes remaining to put the Crimson Tide within 69-68. He then hit another when he scored to make it 75-74 UNC with 3:17 left.
Sears ended regulation after shooting 7-for-10 from deep with 24 total points.
Efforts in regulation by Sears, as well as point guard Jahvon Quinerly, helped keep Alabama in a game where UNC could easily have run away at times.
Leaky Black serves as Brandon Miller’s counterpart
The graduated forward faced the challenge of defending the nation’s top scorer among freshmen. Black handled it well.
Miller didn’t score in the first half, committing three fouls before the break. Miller went 0-to-5 out of field and 0-to-2 from deep in the first.
Miller broke his scoring early in the second with two free throws and a 3-pointer, but then committed his fourth foul with 16:03 to go. That kept him out of the game up to 8:56.
Miller finished the regular field with seven points 2-on-11. He had a final stat line of 4-for-21 from the field and 2-for-8 from deep with seven rebounds.
However, Miller hit an important 3-pointer in the third overtime to put Alabama to two.
Otherwise, whether it was defending Black or foul problems, Miller became a non-factor for much of the game when he otherwise dominated for the Crimson Tide throughout the season. That just wasn’t Miller’s game.
Charles Bediako a hero in overtime
The Crimson Tide couldn’t move much offensively in the first phase of bonus basketball. Quinerly made all sorts of shots, but he only made one of five in the first overtime. However, UNC couldn’t do much either. So the game went to a second OT.
Then Bediako, who had eight points and eight rebounds in overtime, got to work. He dunked twice and also struggled for a defensive rebound. Bediako also had a block about 90 seconds ahead. Alabama held a four-point lead late in the second overtime but couldn’t hold on. UNC leveled the game, and Quinerly was blocked on a shot after time ran out. Tie 89-89, it forced a third overtime.
Quinerly later leveled the game with two free throws 96-96 with about 30 seconds remaining. UNC had possession that looked like a last-second shot, but the Sears and Bradley defense gave the ball back to Alabama with three seconds remaining.
Bradley tried to pass the ball but it wasn’t touched. So UNC went back to the same spot with a three second lead. Still, overtime ended without a winner.
In the fourth overtime, Bediako hit a layup to give Alabama a point in the last minute. Then, in UNC’s subsequent possession, Bediako was initially called up as goaltender. That would have automatically given UNC a point advantage, but officials checked it and called it a ban.
Bradley hit a free throw to extend that lead late on and it was enough for Alabama to hold on and win.