Photo Credit: Clemson Tigers Athletics

Clemson Basketball falls to Alabama in the Elite 8

Clemson vs Alabama – Elite Eight, NCAA Tournament – Saturday, March 30th, Los Angeles, California

The start for the Clemson Tigers (ACC, 24-12, West 6-seed) couldn’t have been better.

A quick bucket from PJ Hall followed by an Ian Schieffelin dunk and layup gave Clemson a fast 6-0 lead.

The next few minutes would be a precursor to the rest of the game for this Elite Eight matchup.

The Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC, 25-11, West 4-seed) would then get an and-one layup from Graham Nelson, followed by a corner three by Jarin Stevenson to tie the game at 6. Those two things – free throws and threes – would elevate the Tide to the end of the match.

Despite Clemson opening up a 13-point lead early, using Alabama misses from the 3-point line to their advantage, the Crimson Tide would continue to fight back – using the pace to keep the game moving.

Multiple second-chance points would keep Alabama in striking distance until their three-point shooting would catch up. An 8-0 Tide run would cut the lead to 5 at 26-21. Three straight corner threes would move them to within two, 26-24. 

Despite starting the game with 9 turnovers, the Tide cut down on that number during a long stretch that would move them into a great position to turn the tide before the half.

The run for the Tide to close the first half would balloon to 22-6, ending with Alabama holding a 35-32 lead heading into halftime. All of the momentum felt all but gone from the Tigers after a shot-clock violation against them to end the first half.

Tigers Head Coach Brad Brownell was quoted talking about how Alabama sped up the pace to start their comeback, knowing Clemson needed to slow down the pace to stay in the game. The head coach also hoped to make more threes in the second half – the Tigers were 1-9 from three to start. 

Despite the deficit, the adversity wouldn’t stop the Tigers.

Schieffelin would start the half with an and-one play, followed by a defensive stop and an offensive rebound by Jack Clark off of a Hall miss to give the Tigers the lead.

The lead didn’t last, as the game continued to flow in Alabama’s favor. A Mark Sears three would give the Tide the lead again, and point to how the second half was bound to go.

A back and forth affair saw Alabama’s lead creep up from second-chance points and three point makes. A Joseph Girard III three (his first of the game) followed by an emphatic driving dunk by Hall would keep Clemson in the game, down one. 

Alabama would answer with a Graham Nelson dunk of his own, adding that to a fast break bucket, giving Alabama a six point lead at the under-16 second-half media timeout.

After a beautiful step-through, drop-step move by PJ Hall for a quick layup plus the foul, the Tigers would pull the lead within three. 

After the next media timeout would be indicative of the final stretch for this Tigers team. Hall would miss his next free throw, followed by another quick Mark Sears three to stretch the lead back out to six for the Crimson Tide.

A 23-point night for Mark Sears (7-14 3PT), aided by a career night for Stevenson (19 points, 5-8 from 3) and key plays from Nick Pringle (16 points, 11 rebounds – 6 offensive) carried the Tide to the finish line.

Brad Brownell switched to a zone defense, a staple this team (and many other Brownell teams) have implemented in the past, to confuse and lock down other teams’ otherwise explosive offenses. 

The Crimson Tide were not phased.

After a shot clock violation against the change, Alabama began to rain down three pointers left and right – making 16 threes (44%) – the most the Tigers have given up all year.

A back and forth barrage of threes by both teams would get the crowd on their feet, despite Alabama maintaining a six-point lead with under six minutes to play. 

The Tigers – statistically the best free-throw shooting team in the NCAA tournament – would struggle from the line tonight. Clemson got many and-one opportunities from Schieffelin (18 point, 11 rebounds) and Hall, but couldn’t finish the job from the free throw line. The team went 8-16 from the line tonight, a mere 50% from the charity stripe.

PJ Hall (14 points) would pick up his 4th (7:59 to go) and 5th (3:30 to go) fouls to end his night and effectively his Clemson career. After this, second chance points for Nick Pringle and threes from Mark Sears dictated the end of the game for the Tigers.

Joseph Girard III would make a huge 3 from deep to cut the lead to 3 with 2 minutes to go, but on the following possession, Pringle would get an and-one bucket on a foul in the lane. After a quick layup by RJ Godfrey (12 points), Sears would make his 7th 3 on a step back over Godfrey to put the lead back to six points. A few missed free throws by Jack Clark and others, followed by some last-ditch efforts to make a three or two, the Crimson Tide would make their free throws off of Tiger fouls with the clock winding down and effectively end the season for the Clemson Tigers.

The final: 89-82, Alabama. 

When asked about the difference in the outcome of the game, Brad Brownell had this to say:

“Shot making and rebounding. Disappointed that we didn’t do a better job. Been a bit of a problem for us in the tournament. But I’m so proud of our players, the run they took us on here has been phenomenal. I’ve just got an unbelievable group of kids. Give credit to Alabama, their shot making in the second half was impressive.”

When asked about how this Clemson Tigers team will be remembered: “Just how coachable they were. *long pause as he composes himself*… How much I’m going to miss them, how much I love them, and appreciate what they do for us and the joy they took our fanbase on these last two weeks, has been fun. And certainly memorable for me. I told them it will be something they remember for the rest of their lives.”

An incredible run of defense, spectacular play, and Clemson Grit led Clemson basketball to its first Elite Eight in 43 long years. This Clemson Tigers team will go down as one of the best to ever grace this program. Coach is right: This team will be remembered for the rest of all of our lives, too.

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