BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Right before Nimari Burnett got up to leave the stage at the end of his postgame interview on Thursday, he wanted to share a final message.
“Mark (Sears) stays in the gym. He lives in the gym,” Burnett said.
Burnett’s comment got a wry smile out of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama native who was sitting to his right. While it was an acknowledgment of Sears’ work ethic, it was also a proverbial tip of the cap to the fellow guard who finally saw some shots fall at just the right time.
The last five games haven’t been kind to the Ohio transfer as he went 7-for-35 from deep since the beginning of March. That cold spell included a 3-for-22 mark during the SEC Championship Tournament. Despite a rough weekend in Nashville, Sears went right back to work during the team’s off week.
“The previous games, I have been struggling to shoot the ball, and over the break, I just got back in the gym and started from ground zero,” Sears said. “I just trusted my work, just continued to shoot with confidence.
“We won the SEC Tournament Sunday and the following Monday, I went in the gym at 10 a.m., made 300 jump shots, and then at 12 o’clock, got treatment, and I came back in at 7:30 and I got another 300 shots.”
The extra work paid off against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi as Sears finished with 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and a 3-for-4 mark from three. The junior was a major contributor in the team wracking up 15 3-pointers en route to a 96-75 win over the Islanders.
While eight Alabama players scored a basket from deep in the team’s first-round matchup, Alabama head coach Nate Oats made it a point to highlight Sears’ performance.
“I think it’s really big,” Oats said. “He’s been our second-leading scorer all year. Even when he was struggling, we continued to play him heavy minutes because I think he adds a lot to the team, even when he’s not making shots. He’s tough. He’s had games where he’s been one of the scrappiest, toughest, perimeter defenders out there. He adds that to the mix.
“We’re going to have him out there because we know he can score. Other teams know he’s capable of scoring at a high level. Teams can’t sag him. He’s going to give spacing on the floor. So to have him go ahead and make a lot of shots certainly helps because he can be on the floor. I was really happy to see those ones going in.”
Sears made all three of his 3-pointers in three-consectuive possessions giving Alabama commanding 14-point lead that it didn’t relinquish.
The junior’s return to become a consistent offensive threat will be needed as Alabama will face the No. 9-seed Maryland Terapins who are the No. 32 defense, according to KenPom.
“Hopefully, he gets his confidence going and we’ll see more of the same in the second round,” Oats said. “… All of our players expect all their shots to go in, The way he shot it all summer and in the fall, he didn’t miss any open threes. I was happy to see that.”