Alabama grad student guard Aaron Estrada (55) scored 19 points, four rebounds and three assists against the UNC Tar Heels (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

The top-seeded North Carolina (UNC) Tar Heels was upset by the Alabama Roll Tide 87-89 in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament at Arena.

Alabama senior Grant Nelson scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half. A seven-point run he went on with 4:56 left in regulation was pivotal to their victory.

“Grant Nelson deserves to play well.  He works hard.  He’s been all about the right stuff all year,” said Alabama men’s basketball head coach Nate Oats. “Even when he struggled he just stays with it, stays with it.  I couldn’t be happier for [Nelson].”

UNC grad student forward Armando Bacot led with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Senior guard RJ Davis made seven assists.

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“Their length and the way they challenged our shots bothered us, and then their ability to get second-chance opportunities,” said UNC head coach Hubert Davis. “I know we won the rebounding battle, but in order for us to have won this game we needed to dominate the boards on both ends of the floor.”

Tar Heels senior RJ Davis (4) scored 16 points, three rebounds and seven assists against the Alabama Roll Tide (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

Davis was recently named ACC Coach of the Year and won National Coach of the Year in 2022. Senior guard RJ Davis was named ACC Player of the Year.

UNC found their stride early but Alabama rallied and made up for their deficit with an eight-point run that started at 14:02 mark. The high-tempo match-up saw seven lead changes and eight ties in the first half.

Alabama senior guard Mark Sears and grad student guard Aaron Estrada made an array of shots for the Roll Tide only to be countered by the shots of junior forward Harrison Ingram and the three-pointers of grad student guard Cormac Ryan. The Tar Heels shared the ball with 14 assists which allowed seven players to score by halftime.

UNC went into halftime shooting at 52.6 percent from the field and 62.5 percent in three-pointers. Alabama was 48.6 percent in field and 50 percent from downtown at that point.

Play became more physical during the second half; Alabama committed five fouls and UNC made three in five regulated minutes. The Roll Tide took advantage of the offensive drought of UNC.

“I didn’t do a good enough job just boxing out and coming out with more intensity, especially coming into the beginning of the second half because we knew they would come in and try to come back and come fired up,” Bacot said.  “But at the end of the day it just boiled down to them just making more shots than we did.”

UNC grad student guard Cormac Ryan (3) defends Alabama senior guard Mark Sears (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

With 10 minutes left in regulation, RJ Davis gave the Tar Heels a Spark with hustle plays. He made 14 points in the second half, Alabama guard Paxson Wojcik defended both Davis and Ryan and effectively reduced their scoring.

“He did a great job on him.  We don’t win this game without Rylan locking him up. And he executing the game plan,” Sears said.

Sears scored 18 points in the effort; he was one of four Alabama players to score in the double digits.

The Roll Tide knocked out a team that was ranked fifth in the AP men’s basketball national rankings. Oats noted how he and the coaching staff challenged the team during the season to increase their competitiveness.

“So you can say a lot about the leadership of guys trying to get us to compete,” Oates said.  “Mark Sears has competed as hard as he’s ever competed since he’s been at Alabama these last three games.”

Alabama will battle Clemson on March 30 at 5:49P.M.