Takeaways from Alabama Basketball’s Elite Eight Win Over Clemson

LOS ANGELES — Alabama basketball made history on Saturday night, defeating Clemson in the Elite Eight and advancing to the program’s first-ever Final Four.

Here are my thoughts and observations from a wild and historic game:

1. Mark Sears becomes an Alabama, and March, legend.

Mark Sears has already had a historic season for Alabama. He averaged over 20 points per game, the first time an Alabama player has done so in decades, was named first team All-SEC, and was picked as high as a second team All-American.

But what Sears did against Clemson in the Elite Eight was the stuff of legends, not just in Alabama history, but in NCAA Tournament history.

To put it bluntly, Sears was not good in the first half. He scored just five points on 2-for-11 shooting, and with him having the off-night it seemed he was having, it felt like a miracle that Alabama held a 3-point halftime lead.

But something changed at halftime. Sears came out blistering in the second half, and completely put the team on his back. He answered Clemson bucket after Clemson bucket, keeping the team at arm’s length and keeping the crowd at bay throughout despite the intensity of the game.

And when the lights got brighter and the moment got bigger, he kept delivering, including a stepback three with about 75 seconds left on the clock to extend Alabama’s lead from four points to seven.

He made his first five 3-point attempts of the second half, scored 18 for the half, and totaled 23 for the game. He kept shooting after his slow start, and ultimately led Alabama to the promised land, cementing himself as one of the greatest players in school history.

The kid from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, who came back to play for his home state team, stepped up on the biggest stage, and will forever be a legend for it.

2. Jarin Stevenson had a breakout performance.

Freshman forward Jarin Stevenson has had an up-and-down first collegiate season. He reclassified over the summer and joined the team as a highly-touted 4- or 5-star recruit depending on the recruiting service you look at, but it was clear that he was a raw talent that needed developing.

He wasn’t very playable in a lot of Alabama’s early-season games, mainly due to his lack of physicailty and needed phyisical development. But he got more and more comfortable as the season went on.

Alabama played against Stevenson’s hometown team last round, and typically, you’d think to watch for him to have a big game. But he didn’t. He played his role, but wasn’t spectacular.

But Alabama needed someone to step up against Clemson. Nothing was going offensively early, and that included Mark Sears. The team was 1-for-11 from deep to start the game, and needed a spark. So Stevenson went back to the same lefthand corner of the floor where he had just airballed a three, and pulled another. And it was cash.

That three opened the floodgates for Alabama from beyond the arc, finishing 15-for-25 after starting 1-for-11. Stevenson was a huge part of that, shooting 5-for-8 from deep for the game.

Stevenson finished the game with a career-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor, and gave everyone a glimpse of what he has the potential to be. He looked night-and-day different defending the post compared to the first matchup with Clemson, and had the confidence to match Clemson shot-for-shot in the second half as the Tigers tried to make a comeback.

Usually on Saturdays in March, 18-year-olds are going to prom, not scoring 19 in the Elite Eight.

3. Nate Oats got this program over the hump.

Alabama is going to the Final Four.

Those words once seemed impossible to fathom. Especially in the decade-plus before Nate Oats arrived, when Alabama was a frequent on ‘First Four Our’ lists in late-February, and accustomed to NIT logos on the Coleman Coliseum floor in early March.

Even once Oats got to Tuscaloosa and started having incredible success, winning two SEC regular season titles, two SEC Tournament championships, and making the Sweet 16 twice in three years, the Sweet 16 curse still loomed large over this program.

Alabama still had a cap on its March success. The only Elite Eight run was in 2004, a team that was an 8-seed. The Crimson Tide had a 1-9 record in the Sweet 16, by far the worst of any team with that many second weekend appearanced.

But Oats found a way. He broke through, and got this program to the Final Four. He’s taken Alabama basketball to heights never thought imaginable, and proved that this program can accomplish what so many others have.

His first five seasons have been an unprecedented success, and with his agreement to another new extension just a few weeks ago, this may not be the last we see of it.

First appeared on www.si.com

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