NCAA Tournament: What North Carolina said after Sweet 16 upset to Alabama


Alabama won its second Sweet 16 game in program history and first in the Nate Oats era Thursday night. It came at the expense of Hubert Davis and North Carolina, a one-seed expecting to book a trip to Phoenix for the Final Four.

Instead, the Tide (24-11) will get a rest day and play six-seed Clemson.

Armando Bacot, UNC veteran and one of the stars of college basketball, tried to summarize the team’s feelings after the 89-87 final:

“I mean, I’m definitely hurt. I think we all are, a little shocked. We don’t underestimate any opponent. I think today, I mean, it was tough but all year we play hard and today we played hard and they just more shots than us. And it’s tough losing. It’s not easy losing especially as talented as a team we are we felt we had the chance to win the national championship this year. … I’ve known Coach Davis since I was 14 years old, 15 years old. And knowing this is the last time I’ll play for him, it definitely hurts.”

Bacot said it was the best team he ever played on and North Carolina (29-8) showed it in bursts. They made 10 3-pointers in the first half. The Tar Heels managed an 8-0 run to take the lead going into the locker room. After the break, star guard RJ Davis scored 14 points after driving and getting to the rim with his 3-pointers not falling.

Alabama shot 47.8% compared to UNC’s 38.5. The Tar Heels attempted nine more shots than the Tide thanks, in part, to a 46-43 rebounding advantage. North Carolina led by five points with 3:46 remaining.

“I think it just boiled down to them just hitting more shots than us today. You look at it, I missed a few chippies, a wide-open dunk. Abnormal stuff. We missed some shots we usually make and later down the stretch they made some shots. So that’s really all I can point to,” Bacot said.

“I mean, always in the closing minutes, it comes down to a play here or there. I’ve talked all season about the little details that make big things happen, not just necessarily shots — rebounds, free throws, loose balls. At the end of the day, they made down the stretch more plays than us,” Hubert Davis added.

Bacot and RJ Davis combined for 35 points, 15 rebounds and four steals. It wasn’t a bad night, yet it paled compared to the stunning work of two Alabama role players. Rylan Griffen netted five 3-pointers. Grant Nelson scored the final 12 of UA’s last 15 points of the game, flashing his potential at the biggest stage.

Alabama vs. North Carolina

Alabama forward Grant Nelson (2) celebrates after scoring during the second half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game against North Carolina in the NCAA tournament Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)AP

Griffen also had multiple good defensive possessions on Davis, which the latter credited postgame. Still, Davis felt too many of his open shots were too open to miss.

But before the performances of Bacot and Davis were questioned too much by reporters in a press conference, Cormac Ryan intervened.

“I’ve got to chime in here. You guys can write whatever you want about tonight’s game. You could talk about RJ you could talk about the stats. You could talk about whatever. We would not be in this position today without RJ Davis and Armando Bacot. Carolina wouldn’t be in this position today without these two guys. And so say what you want, there’s just not a true fiber in your being that could actually believe that anything that happened tonight could be the result of something RJ did wrong, because RJ’s done something incredible for this team. He’s done stuff that’s never been done before. He’s one of the greatest Tar Heels of all time,” Ryan said.

North Carolina had praised Alabama’s ability to space the floor with a dynamic attack, especially if Nelson was in a rhythm. It came to fruition in Arena.

Alabama kept flashing the best of itself — Nick Pringle wrestled five offensive rebounds, Mark Sears added a consistent 18 points, Aaron Estrada found his shot for 19 points — and it took down a blue blood program.

“It was an honor and a privilege to play against Alabama tonight. They’re one of the better teams in the country. Obviously very gifted from an offensive standpoint, not just shooting the basketball. They have guys that can create their own shot, just go get buckets. But also felt like their length and athleticism bothered us, bothered us defensively,” Hubert Davis said.

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