Brandon Miller didn't score but Mark Sears was back in Alabama basketball's March Madness win

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

BIRMINGHAM — Plenty will be made about Alabama basketball scoring 96 points without a single score from Brandon Miller in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, and rightfully so.

He's the SEC player of the year, the team's leading scorer and one of the best players in the country.

Still, that wasn't the most encouraging or best sign to emerge from the Crimson Tide's 96-75 win over No. 16 seed Texas A&M Corpus-Christi on Thursday at Legacy Arena.

Mark Sears was. He's back on track.

He went 3-of-4, sinking all of his shots from beyond the arc. The Ohio transfer finished with 15 points as he knocked down all four free-throws, too, for Alabama (30-5).

"All of our players expect all his shots to go in the way he shot it last summer and fall," Alabama coach Nate Oats said. "He didn’t miss any open threes. I was happy to see that. Hopefully it gets his confidence going and we see more of the same in the second round."

It was a welcome change from how Sears had been shooting the past few games. The Crimson Tide's second-leading scorer behind Miller had been struggling, and struggling mightily.

Sears had gone 4-of-27 from beyond the arc and 5-of-33 overall over the past four games.

Alabama didn't take him out of the starting lineup, though. He's valuable to the team in other ways, too.

Assistant coach Antoine Pettway encouraged Sears during the scoring slump.

"We still believe in you, no matter how you shoot," Pettway told Sears, per Sears. "You bring so much to the table other than shooting the ball."

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So Sears remained in the lineup, but he wasn't going to accept not being able to score. Instead, he went to work.

After the win over Texas A&M on Sunday, he returned to Tuscaloosa and was in the gym the next morning. He said he put up 300 jump shots. Then after treatment, he came back and put up another 300.

"Mark stays in the gym," guard Nimari Burnett said. "He lives in the gym."

Sears once displayed similar diligence between his freshman and sophomore seasons at Ohio. Some were saying he couldn't shoot at a high level, he said. Sears went 11-for-40 (27.5%) from 3-point range his first year with the Bobcats.

Then in the summer of 2021, Sears said he made 15,000 3-pointers. That translated to about 250 per day in sessions that spanned 30-45 minutes.

It showed his sophomore season. He finished 60-for-147 (40.8%) from deep.

His diligence paid off then, and the recent work in the gym paid off against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (24-11).

Sears hit three triples on three consecutive possessions in the first half.

"We’re going to have him out there," Oats said. "We know he can score. Other teams know he is capable of scoring at a high level."

Thursday's game was a statement from Sears. He wasn't just going to accept the downward scoring trend. Sears left those issues at the door of the NCAA Tournament.

If Alabama is going to make a run, Sears will need to be a big part of it. Opponents will only get tougher than the Islanders each round, and Alabama will need as many scorers as it can get.

Sears has the ability to be at the top of that list. The key for him will be making his performance against the Islanders the start of a trend, not an outlier.