Brandon Miller shines on national stage as Alabama basketball takes down Michigan State

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama basketball only had a bunch of quizzes before Thursday.

Sure, there were challenges the first four teams on this season's schedule could give the Crimson Tide. But Longwood, Liberty, South Alabama and Jacksonville State didn't present near the test of a Michigan State squad.

Alabama didn't ace it, but it still passed with strong marks. Leading by as much as 18 in the second half, the Crimson Tide held on to defeat the Spartans 81-70 in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon, on Thursday.

"We were very level-headed tonight," veteran guard Jahvon Quinerly said. "I just feel like we didn't get rattled at all when they went on runs. That just goes to show what we talk about in practice. I just feel like guys are locked in."

Alabama will face No. 20 UConn on Friday (8:30 p.m. CT, ESPN) in the next round of the tournament.

Here are our observations and takeaways from the game between No. 18 Alabama (5-0) and No. 15 Michigan State (3-2).

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Brandon Miller dominates in first half of first high-major test

Miller, a freshman, didn't waste much time showing he's going to give top teams problems, too.

There was no reason to believe otherwise, but Miller hadn't had his chance to display what he could do against a high-major opponent until Thursday. Then he dazzled in the first half.

Miller missed his first four shots, then went off. By the time the first half ended, he had scored 17 points, grabbed five boards and had hit three 3-pointers.

One of his shots from deep gave Alabama the lead at 31-30 with 3:42 left in the first half. Then his third triple came on a buzzer-beater before the break. Miller grabbed the defensive rebound, dribbled down the court and hit the shot to give Alabama the 42-37 lead at the half.

"Miller is a great player," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told ESPN at halftime. "Made a big-time play."

Miller picked up right where he left off at the beginning of the second half. He scored five within the first 2:30 of the second frame. His scoring slowed from there, though. He picked up his third foul not long after the break, and he wasn't sinking shots at the same rate as the first half.

Still, Miller finished with 24 points and nine rebounds. Both led the Crimson Tide.

"All in all, he had a pretty good game," Alabama coach Nate Oats said. "He needs to play well for us to be at our best and he did."

Jahvon Quinerly goes to work off the bench

If Miller was Batman, Quinerly gets the Robin nickname.

Right when Miller had to sit at about the 12:30 mark in the second half as he tallied his third personal foul, Quinerly hit a 3-pointer to help Alabama continue its offensive momentum. And that wasn't all Quinerly was able to do to keep Alabama battling.

Coming off the bench, Quinerly looked confident and poised. He did most of his damage in the second half. He was drawing fouls, hitting buckets and proving to be a difference-maker for the Crimson Tide.

“He is starting to feel comfortable again," Oats said. "That’s against a high-level defensive team. A tough team. He was doing what he does. He gets in the paint, he collapses the defense. He makes the right reads, he gets the ball to where it needs to go. He opens everything up for us.”

Quinerly was playing in only his third game since returning from his ACL tear. He finished the day with 10 points and three assists.

Battle on the boards

Nate Oats knew Michigan State was going to give Alabama its toughest test yet on the boards.

He was right. It turned out to be a tough fight for rebounds between the Spartans and the nation's top rebounding team.

Michigan State just edged out Alabama, holding a 42-40 rebounding advantage at the final buzzer.