Sports

Clemson Claws Cats For Second-Ever Trip To ‘Elite Eight’

Heading into ‘March Madness,’ plenty of college basketball analysts felt Lamont Paris‘ University of South Carolina team was poised to make a deep run in the 2024 NCAA tournament. No disrespect to the Gamecocks, but it turns out Carolina’s in-state rival – Clemson University – was the program that had…

Heading into ‘March Madness,’ plenty of college basketball analysts felt Lamont Paris‘ University of South Carolina team was poised to make a deep run in the 2024 NCAA tournament. No disrespect to the Gamecocks, but it turns out Carolina’s in-state rival – Clemson University – was the program that had what it took.

On Thursday evening in Los Angeles, sixth-seeded Clemson knocked off second-seeded Arizona – the No. 9 team in America – 77-72 to earn its second-ever trip to the ‘Elite Eight.’ Head coach Brad Brownell‘s Tigers will now face fourth-seeded Alabama – which ended the regular season ranked No. 18 – in the West regional finals on Saturday night with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

The Crimson Tide knocked off top-seeded North Carolina 89-87 on Thursday night to advance to its second-ever Elite Eight appearance.

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In 112 seasons of college basketball, Clemson has never reached the Final Four. Prior to Thursday night’s stunning upset of the Wildcats, the Tigers had reached the Elite Eight just once – in 1980. That year’s team – coached by the late Bill Foster – lost 85-74 to national runner-up UCLA in the West regional finals in Tucson, Arizona.

Since then, Clemson has won three national championships in football – but has never gone beyond the ‘Sweet Sixteen’ in the NCAA tournament. On Clemson’s last trip to the ‘Sweet Sixteen’ six years ago, Brownell’s squad was defeated 80-76 by top-seeded Kansas.

“We have confidence in our team,” Brownell said after the upset win over Arizona. “I’ve got an older team. These guys have seen a lot, done a lot and experienced success. And so just really happy that they were able to withstand it, and we executed some things really well down the stretch.”

Senior guard Chase Hunter iced the win with a pivotal three point play with just 25.7 seconds remaining on the clock.

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After leading by as many as thirteen points earlier in the game, Clemson was clinging to a two-point lead when Hunter drove the lane and drew contact from Arizona’s Jaden Bradley. As he hung suspended in the air, Hunter made an off-balance, one-handed floater to give the Tigers a four-point lead.

The ensuing free throw stretched the leave to five – sealing the upset.

“I just wanted to make a play,” Hunter said after the game. “I wanted to get to the basket, wanted to get an and-one, wanted to make something happen, and that’s what I did.”

Here’s another view of the clutch bucket …

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Hunter finished the game with a team-leading 18 points. He also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out a five assists. Senior center PJ Hall of Dorman, S.C. contributed 17 points and eight rebounds, while junior forward Ian Schieffelin of Loganville, Georgia added 14 points and seven boards.

Arizona entered the game as the No. 3 scoring offense in the country – but hit on just five of 28 shots (17.9 percent) from behind the three-point arc. That was Arizona’s worst three-point percentage shooting performance of the season. Overall, the Wildcats hit just 37.3 percent of their field goals.

Conversely, Clemson hit 32 percent of its long range shots and 49.2 percent of its field goals.

Having shut down one prolific scoring team, Clemson must now deal with another. Alabama enters the regional finals with the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense – averaging 90.7 points per game.

Saturday’s tipoff from the Crypto.com arena in Los Angeles is scheduled for 8:49 p.m. EST. The game will be televised nationally on TBS with Brian Anderson calling the play-by-play and Jim Jackson providing color commentary. Allie LaForce will report from the sidelines. Oddsmakers have installed the Crimson Tide as 3.5-point favorites.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Travis Bell Photography)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina and before that he was a bass guitarist and dive bar bouncer. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.

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