Birmingham, Ala. – Just before Neymari Burnett stepped off the stage at the end of Thursday’s post-match interview, he wanted to share one last message.
“Mark (Sears) stays in the gym. He lives in the gym,” Burnett said.
Burnett’s comment earned a wry smile from Muscle Shoals, the Alabama native who was seated to his right. While it was an acknowledgment of Sears’ work ethic, it was also a proverbial tip for the fellow guard who finally saw a few shots go down at just the right time.
The last five games have not been kind to the Ohio transition as he has gone 7-for-35 from deep since the beginning of March. This cold spell included a 3-for-22 mark during the SEC Tournament. Despite a difficult weekend in Nashville, Sears got right back to work during the team’s week off.
“In previous games, I was struggling with my shot, and during halftime I just went back to the gym and started from scratch,” Sears said. “I believed in my work, and I continued to shoot with confidence.
“We won the SEC tournament on Sunday and the following Monday, I went to the gym at 10 a.m., did a 300 jump shot, then at 12 p.m. I did my therapy, came back at 7:30 and got another 300 ply.”
The overtime paid off against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi as Sears finished with 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 3-for-4 from three. The junior was a key contributor on a team that hit 15 three-pointers en route to a 96-75 victory over the Islanders.
While eight Alabama players hit a ball from depth in the team’s first-round game, Alabama coach Nate Oates made it a point to highlight Sears’ performance.
“I think it’s really big,” said Oatmeal. “He was our second top scorer all year. Even when he was struggling, we kept playing him in difficult minutes because I think he adds a lot to the team, even when he’s not shooting. He was one of the toughest, hardest defenders out there, and he adds that to the mix.
“We’ll let him out because we know he can score. Other teams know he can score at a high level. Teams can’t threaten him. He’ll give spaces on the ground. So he has to go forward and make a lot of shots that definitely helps because he can be on the ground.” .I was really happy to see those come in.”
Sears made all three of his throws on three-court possessions, giving Alabama a 14-point lead that he did not relinquish.
The rookie return will be needed to become a consistent offensive threat as ninth-ranked Alabama will take on the No. 32 defense Maryland Terrapins, according to KenPom.
“I hope he gets his confidence back and we’ll see more of the same in the second round,” Oates said. “…all of our players expect all of their shots to hit, the way he’s shot all summer and into the fall, he’s never missed any open threes. I was happy to see that.”