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News / Sports / National Sports

NCAA Men: Alabama rides tidal wave of 3-pointers to beat Clemson 89-82 and reach 1st Final Four ever

By BETH HARRIS / Associated Press
Published: March 30, 2024, 9:20pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mark Sears made seven 3-pointers and Alabama recovered from its early long-distance shooting woes with 16 3s to beat Clemson 89-82 on Saturday night, sending the Crimson Tide to the Final Four for the first time.

The Tide (25-11) will face defending national champion UConn in Glendale, Arizona, next Saturday. Alabama knocked off top-seeded North Carolina to reach the Elite Eight.

Sears’ 3-pointers were one off his career high. He finished with 23 points and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament’s West Region. Freshman Jarin Stevenson airballed a 3 in the first half, when Alabama missed 12 of its first 13 from long range. He made a career-high five 3s and had 19 points off the bench.

“These guys have been unbelievable,” Alabama coach Nate Oats told the crowd. “We’ve had a different guy step up every game. Roll Tide!”

The Tide donned red T-shirts with the slogan “Net Worthy” as they celebrated while a bucket of red-and-white confetti was dumped on them.

Clemson (24-12) was seeking its first Final Four appearance, too, in the West Region final between two schools better known for their national championship football teams. Joseph Girard III led Clemson with 19 points, and Ian Schieffelin had 18 points and 11 rebounds.

The Tide buried the Tigers in an avalanche of 10 3s in the second half to pull away. Sears hit a 3, turned and put his fingers to his lips. After he sank the Tide’s eighth 3 of the half, Sears playfully stuck out his tongue and nodded his head as he ran up the court.

“I live for those moments. This is what March Madness is about,” Sears said. “When you’re a kid, you want to be in these moments. It feels like my dream came true today. My dream definitely came true today.”

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Clemson had allowed only 14 3-pointers in its first three March Madness games.

“They get those 3s up fast and it seems like they’ll never miss,” Girard said.

The Tigers tried desperately to keep up and finished 8 of 26 from 3-point range. While Sears was putting on a show, Girard, who struggled offensively in the regional semifinal, hit back-to-back 3s and PJ Hall added another that left Clemson trailing 68-62.

Girard’s 3 cut Clemson’s deficit to 76-73. But Nick Pringle was in the midst of scoring eight in a row for the Tide, making 4 of 6 free throws down the stretch. He finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Sears stepped back left of the key and sank the Tide’s 10th 3 of the half for an 82-75 lead, drawing applause from Tide alum and seven-time NBA champion Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry.

“What a basketball game. The shot-making was elite,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. “Their second-half performance was outstanding and for whatever reason we had a hard time guarding them.”

The fourth-seeded Tide were in the Elite Eight for just the second time in school history. They lost in the 2004 regional final to UConn.

The sixth-seeded Tigers defeated second-seeded Arizona in the regional semifinals to earn their second Elite Eight berth in 44 years.

Clemson broke the game open with an early 16-4 run, including six straight by RJ Godfrey, to take a 26-13 lead.

Alabama answered Clemson’s burst with a 22-6 spurt — including 11 in a row — to close the first half leading 35-32. The Tide hit five 3s after missing 12 of 13 to start the game.