By PETE IACOBELLI (AP Sports Writer)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Alabama standout freshman Brandon Miller was in the starting lineup and had a career-high scoring game in a win over South Carolina on Wednesday night — one day after police said he delivered a gun ahead of a fatal shooting that took place near campus in mid-January, and hours after the university said he’d remain an “active member” of the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide and is not considered a suspect.
Alabama’s support for the Miller, one of college basketball’s top players, made little difference to Gamecock fans at Colonial Life Arena, who focused on the 6-foot-9 forward even before the Southeastern Conference game started. The crowd booed each time Miller touched the ball. Members of the student section chanted, “Lock him up,” and “Guilty!” several times as Miller played.
Miller, who finished with 41 points, scored the decisive basket with 0.9 seconds left in OT as SEC-leading Alabama beat South Carolina 78-76.
The game capped an eventful few days for Miller, who authorities say is allegedly connected to the shooting death of 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris last month. Tuscaloosa Police investigator Brandon Culpepper testified this week that Miller brought a gun to now-former teammate Darius Miles on the night of the shooting after Miles texted him and asked him to do so.
Earlier Wednesday, an attorney for Miller said his client never handled the gun officials say was involved.
“Based on all the information that we have received, Brandon Miller is not considered a suspect in this case, only a cooperative witness,” the university said in a statement released before Wednesday’s game. “Today’s statement from Brandon’s lawyer adds additional context that the University considered as part of its review of the facts. Based on all the facts that we have gathered, Brandon remains an active member of the team”
Alabama coach Nate Oats acknowledged that some of his players may have let the past few days affect their game against South Carolina. But not Miller.
“He’s one of the most mentally tough kids I’ve ever coached,” Oats said.
Neither Miller nor other players were made available to the media after the game.
Miller was on the court about 80 minutes before tipoff, warming up with teammates before fans were allowed in the building. Once the doors opened, students filled several areas around the court and focused on Miller, who didn’t react while continuing his pregame drills.
He started the game slowly, missing two wide-open 3-pointers, and the Crimson Tide found themselves in a battle against the Gamecocks, trailing 35-31 at the half. Miller warmed up near the end of the half, scoring on a 3-pointer and a pair of high-flying jams and accounting for almost half of his teams points. He finished the half with a team-high 15 points, three rebounds, a block and a turnover.
It was a highly charged atmosphere and at least two fans were led out of the arena by police as the South Carolina crowd cheered.
Miller’s attorney, Jim Standridge, said his client never handled the gun owned by Miles, who prosecutors say is accused of providing his gun to Michael Davis, who fired it and killed Harris.
“Brandon never touched the gun, was not involved in its exchange to Mr. Davis in any way, and never knew that illegal activity involving the gun would occur,” Standridge said in a statement.
Miller’s alleged involvement in the death of Harris was detailed Tuesday at a preliminary hearing for Miles and Davis, who both face capital murder charges in Harris’ death. Culpepper testified that Miles texted Miller to bring him his handgun.
Oats has said the team was aware Miller allegedly brought the gun to Miles.
Standridge said in the statement that Miles asked Miller for a ride to a club. Standridge said Miles’ brought his “legal handgun and left it in the backseat of Brandon’s vehicle. Brandon never saw the handgun nor handled it.”
Miles later texted Miller to bring him the gun. Miller never got out of his vehicle, was not part of the exchange with Davis and did not interact with anyone in Harris’ party, according to Standridge.
Miller quickly drove off when gunfire took place, Standridge said. When Miller was told someone was hurt and police wanted to speak to him, “he has fully cooperated with law enforcement’s investigation,” Standridge said.
Standridge said the events of the shooting were captured on video. “There is no dispute about Brandon’s activities during this evening,” Standridge said.
Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne, on the ESPN College GameDay podcast, said the school learned new information in the case this week that it used to make its decision to let Miller play. He said Oats did not have all facts when he first addressed the media on Tuesday — Oats described Miller’s situation as “Wrong spot at the wrong time” — and didn’t handle things in the best way.
“We’ve addressed that with him,” Byrne said.
Miller leads the Crimson Tide, averaging 18.7 points and eight rebounds per game entering Wednesday’s action. He’s considered a possible lottery pick in June’s NBA draft.
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