LOS ANGELES – North Carolina made a stop late Thursday night and Grant Nelson was there to take advantage.

Nelson absolutely dominated down the stretch and came up with a huge block late to lead Alabama to a huge 89-87 win over top-seeded North Carolina on Thursday night at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. That officially sent the Crimson Tide to their first Elite Eight since 2004.

“We’ve been in one Elite Eight in the history of Alabama basketball,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “This guy showed up in a big way tonight against one of the best bigs in the country.”

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

But it was the latter part of the half that finally pulled North Carolina into the lead. After a Rylan Griffen three-pointer with about 3:30 left in the 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 burst to take an eight-point lead into the intermission. As a team, North Carolina made 10 three-pointers in the first 20 minutes, thanks in large part to the very sharp shooting of Cormac Ryan, who made four of his first five attempts from behind the arc.

Naturally, neither team could keep up with that pace. North Carolina missed the first 10 shots of the second half, six of which were taken from behind the arc, and they didn’t hit a field goal until Armando Bacot banked in a layup nearly five minutes into the period. The Tar Heels went 2-for-18 from the field to start the half, and Bacot missed a wide-open two-handed dunk that left him nervous on the court, putting Alabama back in it.

The Crimson Tide also looked to run away with the win late, after Nelson capped a solo 7-0 run with a huge 3-pointer that sent Hubert Davis rushing to call a timeout. But North Carolina responded with an 8-0 run of its own, jumping back in front slightly before Nelson raced through an and-1 layup to take a two-point lead.

North Carolina tried to respond, but then Nelson stopped RJ Davis completely at the rim.

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

Nelson’s performance was huge for Alabama, not only because he accounted for 12 of the final 14 points in the win, but also 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 a combined 1-for-7 from the field. He finished with 24 points and shot 6-for-9 from the field against the Tar Heels.

“(I just) had all the confidence in the world,” Nelson said. “These guys came up to me and said great things. I didn’t start this tournament with the best two matches. These guys say, ‘Go out there, get a bucket, for real.’ That gives me a lot of confidence and I give them a lot of credit.”

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

“I was very proud of him,” Sears said of Nelson. “As he said, he struggled in the first two games. To see how he carried us to get this victory, it was very amazing because at the end of the day, all I care about is winning. I don’t care about points or all the accolades. At this time of the season it’s all about winning.”

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 take on Clemson in the Elite Eight on Saturday. The Tigers knocked off Caleb Love and upset No. 2 Arizona in their Sweet 16 game earlier Thursday night, advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1980.

“We’ve been working on this all season,” Nelson said. “But this was not our end goal. It’s good that we are here. It’s something in school that we haven’t done yet, or any other time.

“It’s great. We’re going to celebrate a little bit and then move on to the next game.”

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