March Madness: Grant Nelson enables Alabama to pass No. 1 North Carolina to reach first Elite Eight since 2004

LOS ANGELES — North Carolina State stumbled late Thursday night, and Grant Nelson was there to capitalize.

Nelson completely dominated the half, making a big block late, to lead Alabama to a huge 89-87 upset win over top-seeded North Carolina on Thursday night at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. This officially sent the Crimson Tide to their first Elite Eight since 2004.

The pace in the first half was ridiculously fast. The two teams combined for 100 points and each shot better than 50% from the field in the first 20 minutes while going into stretches where they traded bucket after bucket.

But it was the final portion of the half that North Carolina finally pulled out of the lead. After a Rylan Griffen 3-pointer with about 3:30 left in the first half, Alabama went cold. The Crimson Tide managed just one shot the rest of the way as the Tar Heels closed the half on an 11-2 run to take an eight-point lead into halftime. North Carolina made 10 3-pointers as a team in the first 20 minutes thanks to very hot shooting from Cormac Ryan – who made four of his first five attempts from behind the arc.

Naturally, neither team was able to keep up with this pace. North Carolina State missed its first 10 shots of the second half, six of which were taken from beyond the arc, and they didn't make a field goal until Armando Bacot nailed the ball on a layup about five minutes into the period. The Tar Heels went 2 of 18 from the field to start the half, and Bacot missed a wide-open dunk with both hands that left him flustered on the field, allowing Alabama to come right back at him.

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The Crimson Tide appeared to be on the verge of escaping with a late win as well, after Nelson cruised to a solo 7-0 run capped by a huge 3-pointer that sent Hubert Davis scrambling to call a timeout. But North Carolina State responded with an 8-0 run to once again jump ahead a bit, before Nelson nailed a layup and-1 for a two-point lead right back.

North Carolina tried to fight back, but then Nelson completely stuffed RJ Davis at the rim.

That led to another turnover and ultimately propelled the Crimson Tide to a two-point win and their second-ever Elite Eight appearance.

Nelson's game was huge for Alabama, not only because he had 12 of the final 14 points in the win, but because of how poorly he played in the Crimson Tide's first two tournament games. Nelson scored just three points in each of the first two rounds and shot 1-of-7 from the field. He finished with 24 points and shot 6-of-9 from the field against the Tar Heels.

Aaron Estrada added 19 points for the Crimson Tide in the win, and Griffin finished with 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from behind the arc. Sears added 18 points.

Bacot led North Carolina with 19 points and 12 rebounds in the loss, and Ryan finished with 17 points. Davis finished with 16 points and seven assists, though he went 0-of-9 from the three-point line.

Alabama will now face Clemson in the Elite Eight on Saturday. The Tigers beat Caleb Love and upset second-seeded Arizona in a Sweet 16 match earlier Thursday night, sending them to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1980.

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