NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Alabama coach Nate Oats reached out to Ray Lewis for advice on helping his fourth-ranked Crimson Tide play two days after a teammate was charged with capital murder.
Oats prayed with his players and shared a Bible verse suggested by the Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker, whose daughter attended Alabama recently. Then the Crimson Tide put their emotions aside Tuesday night and focused on basketball for 40 minutes.
Freshman Brandon Miller scored 30 points and had 10 rebounds as Alabama beat Vanderbilt 78-66 for their seventh straight victory. Alabama didn't make players available after the game, and Oats said he didn't see much emotion before tipoff.
“I did see some guys break down postgame,” Oats said. “I think they’ve been bottling some stuff up. We’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to get to the game. We got to the game and took care of business, and then it's almost like a big relief. The game’s over, and we can let out a sigh of relief.”
Reserve junior forward Darius Miles was charged Sunday, a day after Alabama already had announced he would miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Investigators said Miles admitted to providng the handgun immediately before 23-year-old Jamea Harris was shot early Sunday near campus.
Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse crumpled the stat sheet when asked about what Alabama is dealing with, saying he couldn't "fathom that we even played this game.” Stackhouse said he told his Commodores to appreciate the opportunity that someone they have competed against likely will never get again.
“Give them credit to be able to weather all of that stuff that’s around them, to come out and perform the way they did tonight you know, hats off,” Stackhouse said of Alabama. "They were the better team tonight.”
The Crimson Tide (16-2, 6-0 SEC) rebounded well against a team that beat them in the conference tournament last March. All six SEC wins have come by double digits, though Vandy threatened late with a 13-2 run.
Jordan Wright missed a 3 with 36 seconds to go with Vandy down 70-62. The Crimson Tide finished off the win at the free throw line knocking down all eight attempts, and Miller had six of those.
Jaden Bradley and Noah Gurley each added 12 points as eight Alabama players scored. Gurley capped the win with a dunk in the final seconds, and Oats apologized after the game, saying it wasn't done to “rub it in.”
Vanderbilt (9-9, 2-3) now has lost three of its last four — all against ranked opponents. The Commodores now are 3-15 against Top 25 teams overall in Stackhouse's fourth season.
Tyrin Lawrence led Vanderbilt with 20 points, Wright added 15 and Ezra Manjon had 11.
Alabama opened the game scoring the first six points and went up 13-3 on a free throw by Gurley. Vanderbilt answered back and took its lone lead at 22-21 on a 3-pointer by Malik Dia. Then the Crimson Tide took control, finishing the half on a 15-4 run for a 36-26 lead at the half.
The Tide just kept scoring. Miller capped a 32-8 run with a 3-pointer with 12:44 remaining for Alabama's biggest lead at 53-30. Vanderbilt couldn't have been much colder, missing 10 of its first 11 shots for the half. Wright's 3 with 12:28 to go was the Commodores' second made bucket of the second half.
Alabama showed off its speed and shooting to remain undefeated in league play. This is just the Tide's second 6-0 start in the SEC under Oats in his fourth season. Alabama had not opened SEC play undefeated this far into league play since a 5-0 start in the 1986-87 season.
Vanderbilt wasn't helped by not having fifth-year forward Liam Robbins out with an injured ankle. He had 18 points in last weekend's win over then-No. 15 Arkansas. Robbins will miss four to six weeks. The 7-footer ranks fifth nationally blocking an average of 2.94 shots per game and was eighth with 50 total blocks. He saved a pair of victories blocking potential game-winners at the buzzer against Temple and Pittsburgh and is a big reason the Commodores rank 19th averaging 5.3 blocked shots a game.
Stackhouse said he learned Tuesday morning that Robbins would be out with what appears to be a bone bruise and sprain after an MRI on Monday night was negative.
The Crimson Tide positioned themselves to potentially gain more votes winning their first game since Miles' arrest.
Alabama continues a two-game road swing Saturday at Missouri.
Vanderbilt visits Georgia on Saturday.