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By Sam Walters

The Tigers defeated the #2 Arizona Wildcats in the Sweet Sixteen, advancing to their first Elite Eight appearance since 1980. In an attempt to reach their first Final Four, however, they were taken down by the Alabama Crimson Tide, who ended their dominant tournament run.

After arriving in Los Angeles for the Elite Eight, the Tigers took robust control over the Wildcats. Maintaining a lead for nearly the entire game, Clemson ceased to hold back against one of the top offensive programs in the country. However, Arizona ramped back in the end to make things close. With 25 seconds left and only two points in the lead, Chase Hunter sunk a clutch layup to take a two-possession lead. Following a free throw make by Hunter, Wildcat Caleb Love made a jump shot, but a go-ahead layup from Chase’s younger brother, Dillon Hunter, sealed the deal for Clemson.

Clemson’s elite tournament defense continued, keeping the Wildcats under 18% from beyond the arch and shutting down star guard Caleb Love, who shot 0-9 from three-point range. Meanwhile, while Clemson’s defense continued to dominate, guard Chase Hunter heavily contributed again, leading the team in points for the third time in a row with 18. Big men PJ Hall and Ian Schieffelin came up big, combining 31 points and 15 rebounds.

"To be playing great here is everything as a player,” Hunter said in a postgame interview. “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."

For the first time in 44 years, the Tigers advanced to the Elite Eight, facing the Crimson Tide. Clemson defeated the Tide in Tuscaloosa 85-77 in their last meeting and came into their tournament matchup hoping to earn a season sweep.

The Tigers took the lead early, but Alabama kept it tight, retaking the lead 35-32 at the end of the first half. The action heated up in the second half, where Alabama answered every Clemson score with a three-pointer, as guards Mark Sears and Jarin Stevenson combined for nine threes. Entering the later periods of the second half, forward Nick Pringle dominated the paint, drawing multiple fouls, snagging offensive rebounds, and scoring hard for the Tide.

"Their second-half performance was outstanding,” head coach Brad Brownell commented. “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."

Clemson continued to fight back as guard Joseph Girard III nailed back-to-back threes to get closer to Alabama. However, missed free throws late from Schieffelin and Jack Clark, combined with poor defense and stellar Alabama shooting, led to the Crimson Tide victory. 

With the loss against Alabama, Clemson’s deep tournament run comes to an end. A historic season for Clemson, headed by dominant performances by seniors PJ Hall, Chase Hunter, and Joseph Girard III, now transitions into the offseason, where the program will rework itself likely without these pivotal players. Rest assured, with stars like RJ Godfrey, Ian Schieffelin, and many others, the Clemson Men’s Basketball program has a bright future.

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