Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Alabama basketball takes down North Carolina to advance to first Elite Eight in 20 years
Courtesy of UA Athletics
Alabama Forward Grant Nelson (2) shoots the ball against North Carolina at Arena in Los Angeles, CA on Thursday, Mar 28, 2024.

As Alabama men’s basketball possessed a 2-point lead Thursday over North Carolina with less than a second remaining, all the Tar Heels could do was hope that the hand of God would guide in a full-court heave that would send them to the Elite Eight in Los Angeles. 

But it was the hand of forward Grant Nelson that met the ball and sealed Alabama’s 89-87 upset over top-seeded North Carolina and its first trip to the Elite Eight since 2004.  

This rejection was the cherry on top of a heroic second-half performance by Nelson, in which he scored 19 of his 24 points to close out the Heels. The North Dakota State transfer also finished with 12 rebounds and five blocks. He scored only 6 combined points in his first two NCAA Tournament games.  

“I didn’t start this tournament with the best two games,” Nelson said postgame. “These [teammates] just saying go out there and go get a bucket, that gives me a lot of confidence. I give them a lot of credit. I couldn’t have done it without them.” 

With guard Latrell Wrightsell Jr. ruled out before Thursday’s contest with yet another head injury, the fourth-seeded Crimson Tide needed all hands on deck against the Tar Heels.  

In addition to Nelson, Alabama’s guards answered the call. Guards Rylan Griffen and Aaron Estrada each finished with 19 points, while Mark Sears finished with 18.  

The first half was a shootout, which is usually the game style Oats’ squad thrives in. But North Carolina had the hotter hand, hitting 10 of 16 shots from downtown, allowing the Tarheels to take a 54-46 lead. Alabama shot 7-14 in comparison.  

In addition to lighting up the scoreboard on the offensive end, Alabama’s guards looked as disciplined as they have all season on the defensive end, especially in the second half.   

Most notably, Griffen held the Tar Heels’ leading scorer, RJ Davis, to a lackluster night offensively.  The Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year finished with 16 points, but shot just 4-20 from the field, missing all nine of his attempts from long range. He averaged 21.2 points this season. 

“We don’t win this game without Rylan locking him [Davis] up,” Sears said. “He executed the game plan.”  

It wasn’t just Davis who was locked up; North Carolina collectively shot just 2-16 from long range in the second half. The Tar Heels finished just 12-32, which marks the most 3-pointers they have attempted all season.  

Despite limiting the Tar Heels’ offense in the second half, Alabama found itself down 3 with just over a minute and a half remaining in regulation. 

Nelson’s late game explosion fueled a 7-2 run to close the game and secure the Crimson Tide’s second Sweet 16 victory. Alabama was previously 1-9 at this stage in the tournament.  

“It’s not easy to win these games,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “It’s not easy to get to an Elite Eight. There’s only been one ever at Alabama. … They’ve had all kinds of pros and all kinds of really good teams — they were never able to make it. Now we’ve got two, and we’re going to try to get the only Final Four.”  

Next, Alabama will look to avenge its November loss to the sixth-seeded Clemson Tigers in an Elite Eight rematch on Saturday in Los Angeles. The game will be broadcast on TBS at 7:49 p.m. CT.  

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