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Clemson’s magical run ends in heartbreaking defeat to Alabama

Toby Corriston
Clemson guard Joseph Girard III scored a team-high 19 points in the Tigers’ loss to Alabama in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament on March 30, 2024.

Clemson’s dreams of securing its first-ever Final Four appearance were shattered at the free-throw line on Saturday, ending their historic tournament run by falling to Alabama 89-82 in the Elite Eight.

Despite entering Saturday shooting 76% from the charity stripe in the tournament, Clemson blinked when it mattered most — shooting a dismal 3-for-11 at the line in the second half against Alabama. 

Clemson established an early double-digit lead in the first half, shouldered by Ian Schieffelin’s 10 points. However, Alabama’s relentless offense, led by Mark Sears and Jaron Stevenson, gave Clemson fits, especially down the stretch. The Tide finished the first half with a 22-6 run in the final eight minutes to put them up 35-32 heading into the locker room.

Alabama didn’t let up in the second half, continuing to dominate by picking up right where it left off. The Tide shot 70% from the field in the second half, effectively putting Clemson away.

“Their second-half performance was outstanding,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “And for whatever reason, we had a hard time guarding them. I need to do a better job helping our players be better on that end.”

Sears initially struggled from beyond the arc, starting 0-for-6 from deep. However, he then sank six consecutive 3-pointers, including one from 31 feet, pushing Alabama out to a nine-point lead with just over five minutes remaining. He finished with 23 points, going 7-for-14 from behind the arc, while also adding three rebounds and two assists.

Overall, Alabama had a slow start in shooting the ball Saturday night, managing just 33% in the first half. Yet the team was blazing in the second half, shooting 70% from the field.

“The quality of play was unreal in the second half. It’s what people want to see — 50 points for both teams,” Brownell added. “But 10 out of 15 threes by those guys, we had it happen at Miami, and you just can’t win.”

Clemson’s PJ Hall attempted to rally his team early in the second half with a monster one-handed slam, followed by an and-1. However, while matching up against Alabama’s Grant Nelson, Hall fouled out with 3:25 left in the game, finishing with 14 points, four rebounds and two assists.

“Yes, it still stings a lot right now,” Hall said. “I don’t think that it will really set in what we’ve accomplished because we had our eyes set on big goals. And obviously, we’ve achieved great stuff, but we came up a little short of what we really wanted to do.”

Joseph Girard III picked up the slack while Hall was in foul trouble, finding his groove in the second half. While he scored just two points in the first half, Girard poured in 17 points in the second half, going 5-for-7 from behind the arc and adding two assists in the game.

Schieffelin finished the match with a double-double, contributing 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting, along with 11 rebounds and two assists. However, shooting 4-for-8 from the free-throw line killed the Tigers’ chances.

The foul woes plagued Clemson as key players like Schieffelin (3), Jack Clark (3) and RJ Godfrey (4) found themselves sidelined with foul trouble. As a result, Clemson struggled to grab rebounds and was outrebounded 44-33 by Alabama. The Crimson Tide capitalized on this, scoring 15 second-chance points compared to Clemson’s five.

“I’m disappointed in the rebounding because that was something I made a big point of,” Brownell said. “We fought back in the second half with that, but Pringle’s rebounding was significant, the extra possessions there to keep them alive.”

Unlike its previous game against Arizona, Clemson struggled to find production from the team’s bench players. Godfrey was the sole contributor off the bench for the Tigers, tallying 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

Chase Hunter failed to make the same impact in this game as he did in previous tournament outings. He finished with just 12 points, but he did make up for it with five rebounds, six assists and two blocks on the night.

“To get to this point, me and (Hall) just had a moment in the locker room, and I told him we made history,” Hunter said. “We did some big things for this program. I think that with me and him doing that, we set this program to a new standard. We plan on keep being in games like this.”

Clemson’s season comes to an end in its second-ever trip to the Elite Eight. The team faces a challenging road ahead as it will be losing a majority of the starting lineup after this season. Rebuilding this level of success will be difficult for the Tigers as they still seek the team’s first berth in the final four of March Madness.

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Toby Corriston, Asst. Photo Editor
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