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The No. 1 seeded North Carolina Tar Heels were upset by No. 4 Alabama 89-87 in the Sweet 16 of men’s March Madness on Thursday.

The Crimson Tide were led by forward Grant Nelson, who galvanized a second-half comeback for his team with his 24 points – 19 of which came after halftime – 12 rebounds and five blocks.

Trailing 54-46 after the first half, Alabama fought back to take the lead with just over four minutes remaining. Nelson’s clutch three-point play with 38 seconds remaining gave his team a late lead and he blocked an RJ Davis layup attempt with 25 seconds left, as the Crimson Tide was able to hold onto for a memorable victory at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.

The victory means that Alabama will play in only their second ever Elite Eight in the men’s NCAA tournament, the only other time coming in 2004.

Senior forward Nelson, who tied a career-high in points scored, credited his display on the confidence his teammates and coaches had given him.

“These guys coming up to me, telling me great things. I didn’t start this tournament with the best two games,” the 22-year-old told reporters. “These guys are saying: ‘Go out there, go get a bucket,’ really. That gives me a lot of confidence and I give them a lot of credit. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Nelson was aided by the balanced offensive production of his teammates throughout. Rylan Griffen and Aaron Estrada each provided 19 points while Mark Sears added 18 points.

It was Nelson’s defense though which was an important catalyst, his late block on Davis symbolic of Alabama’s stifling efforts on North Carolina’s star guard.

Davis, who averaged 21.3 points a game this season, struggled throughout, finishing with 16 points on 4-of-20 shooting including 0-of-9 from deep.

Afterwards, Sears praised the defense of Griffen for slowing down Davis.

“Shoutout to Rylan. He did a great job on him. We don’t win this game without Rylan locking him up. And he executing the game plan,” Sears told reporters.

The Crimson Tide will face No. 6 Clemson in the Elite Eight on Saturday night in Los Angeles after the Tigers provided their own upset in the Sweet 16, beating the No. 2 Arizona Wildcats 77-72 earlier on Thursday.

Clemson guard Chase Hunter’s three-point play with 25 seconds remaining put the Tigers up five and they were able to hold on to advance to the team’s second Elite Eight in program history and first since 1980.

Hunter led the way in scoring for the Tigers with 18 points to go with seven rebounds and five assists, while PJ Hall provided 17 points and eight rebounds.

“It feels great. I’ve been thankful for my coaches, my teammates for still believing in me for this long season. I definitely started off rough,” Hunter told reporters afterwards.

“To be playing great here is everything as a player. I’m definitely grateful to be playing this well and I’m just happy for my team. Happy I could do this for my team and my coaches. Definitely feels great to be playing this well right now.”

Elsewhere on Thursday, No. 1 UConn continued their dominating defense of their national championship title, advancing to the Elite Eight with a comfortable 82-52 victory over No. 5 San Diego State.

The Huskies will face No. 3 Illinois in the next round after the Fighting Illini’s 72-69 victory over No. 2 Iowa State on Thursday.



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