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

Alabama guard Mark Sears (1) shoots over Clemson forward Jack Clark (5) during the first half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the NCAA tournament Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Alabama guard Mark Sears (1) shoots over Clemson forward Jack Clark (5) during the first half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the NCAA tournament Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Every time Clemson tried to cut down its deficit, Alabama fired up a 3-pointer. Over and over and in such quick succession that the Crimson Tide looked like a video game.

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

“Man, just feeling a lot of emotion,” said Sears, the only Alabama native on the team. “Being from the state of Alabama and to do it with this group of guys, it’s amazing.”

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 couple 3s in the first half, when Alabama missed 12 of its first 13 from long range. He ended up making a career-high five 3s and had 19 points off the bench.

“We don’t win this game without him,” Sears said. “Jarin hit 3 after 3 after 3 and kept us in this ballgame. He was huge.”

Tide coach Nate Oats added, “Jarin grew up tonight.”

The Tide donned red T-shirts with the entirely appropriate slogan “Net Worthy” as they celebrated while a bucket of red-and-white confetti was dumped on them. Oats walked into the postgame news conference wearing the net around his neck.

Clemson (24-12) was seeking its first Final Four appearance, too, in a matchup of 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.”

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 Tide were shooting before the Tigers could get back downcourt and set their zone defense.

“There’s not very many teams that play that way,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell 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.

“They hit big-time shots and we couldn’t quite get the misses we needed them to make,” Hall said. “Credit to them, man, they went out there and hit them. It was big-time basketball.”

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 Alabama alum and seven-time NBA champion Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry.

“What a basketball game. The shot-making was elite,” 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 upended 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.

“We’re big, physical, tough and smart, but we’re not very fast,” Brownell said. “In the second half that was a problem for us.”

UP NEXT

Top-seeded UConn has won a March Madness record 10 straight games by double digits, reaching the Final Four with a 25-point drubbing of Illinois.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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