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Alabama backs star Miller, in lineup vs. South Carolina

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 22 Alabama at South Carolina

COLUMBIA, SC - FEBRUARY 22: Brandon Miller (24) of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks into the distance during a basketball game against the South Carolina Gamecocks on February 22, 2023 at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC. (Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Alabama standout freshman Brandon Miller was in the starting lineup at South Carolina on Wednesday night, hours after the university said he’d remain an “active member” of the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide and is not considered a suspect in a fatal shooting that took place near campus in mid-January.

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.

It has been an eventful few days for Miller, allegedly connected to the shooting death of 23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris last month.

An attorney for Miller said his client never handled the gun officials say was involved in the shooting.

“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”

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 weree led out of the arena by police as the South Carolina crowd cheered.

Earlier Wednesday, Miller’s attorney said his client never handled the gun owned by ex-Alabama player Darius Miles. Miles is accused of providing his gun to Michael Davis, who fired it and killed Harris, prosecutors say.

“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,” Miller’s lawyer, Jim 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, both facing capital murder charges in Harris’ death. An investigator, Brandon Culpepper, testified that Miles texted Miller to bring him his handgun.

Alabama coach Nate 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.

Miles quickly drove off when gunfire took place, Standridge said. When Miles 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.