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Alabama makes basketball's “Final Four” for the first time ever. Football revenge for 2019?

Pat Duggins

Clemson reached its second-ever Elite Eight in college men’s basketball with a staunch defense that took away opponents' perimeter game. On Saturday night, the Tigers couldn't get the stops they needed. Alabama advances to the “Final Four” for the first time ever. Tide fans may be more used to playing Clemson in college football, including Alabama’s bruising loss to the Tigers, 44-16, for the national football title in San Jose in 2019.

In its three previous NCAA Tournament games, Clemson held opponents to 35.1% shooting from the field and 18.6% from 3-point range. The Tigers held Alabama in check early, but the Crimson Tide closed the game making 15 of 23 3’s.

Alabama was 16 of 23 from the field in the final 20 minutes — including 10 of 15 on 3-pointers — as the Tigers' bid for their first Final Four fell short, 89-82 in the West Region final.

"I mean, they hit big shots, man. They really spread us out," said forward PJ Hall, who scored 14 points before he fouled out with 3:25 remaining. "We couldn't quite get the misses we needed them to make."

In its three previous NCAA Tournament games, Clemson held opponents to 65 of 185 from the field (35.1%) and 14 of 75 on 3-pointers (18.6%).

Alabama shot 46.8% from the field (29 of 62). The Tigers won all 17 games when they held opponents under 40%, but went 7-12 when they didn't.

Clemson played at its pace during the first 12 minutes. It built a 26-13 lead and held Alabama to 1 of 13 on 3-pointers. Then the Crimson Tide's Jarin Stevenson connected from the corner. Including that shot, Alabama closed the game by going 15 of 23 beyond the arc.

"We knew going into the game that's what they like to do. And they shoot them fast, especially when they're making them. When they're making them and the momentum is going and they're rolling, they get those 3s up fast and it seems like they'll never miss," said Joseph Girard III, who led the Tigers with 19 points.

Tigers coach Brad Brownell said Alabama was quicker in transition in the second half, which thwarted a couple of Clemson runs.

One of those came early in the second half. Girard made a pullup jumper to get the Tigers within 52-49, but the Tide quickly pushed the ball down the court and Stevenson hit another 3.

"We're big. We're physical. We're tough. We're smart. But we're not very fast. In the second half it was a problem for us," Brownell said. "We couldn't keep them in front of us. When they start making 3s, you start inching out in space. And even them shooting before we could get down and get our zone set a couple times, there's not many teams that play that way."

The Tigers finished 24-12 and will lose four starters. Hall and Chase Hunter were part of a group that made the NCAA Tournament twice and got the program to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1980.

"It's stacked up a quiet resume that has helped build the program up," Hall said. "We can attribute that to the coaching staff and the culture they've built. We came into a situation where it was a doubted culture, even though they had such a great thing building up. And to come in here, validate what they've done, validate the work they do, is special. And it's amazing."

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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