Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Alabama freshman Jarin Stevenson just latest hero for Final Four-bound Crimson Tide in win vs. Clemson

LOS ANGELES — Alabama freshman Jarin Stevenson was sitting in a classroom as a junior at Seaforth High School in Pittsboro, North Carolina, around this time last year. Months later, he decided to speed up his timeline as a college basketball player by reclassifying to join the Crimson Tide for the 2023-24 season.

Stevenson had to grow up fast as a 17-year-old this season in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. On Saturday, in the Crimson Tide’s game against No. 6 seed Clemson the Elite Eight, Stevenson had to accelerate that process even faster after Alabama big man Grant Nelson ran into foul trouble.

Stevenson came in cold off the bench and delivered the best performance of his basketball career in the biggest game in Alabama basketball history. Stevenson scored 19 points and hit five 3-pointers in an 89-82 victory in the West Regional final to send Alabama to its first Final Four in program history. The Crimson Tide will face No. 1 overall seed and reigning national champion UConn on Saturday in a national semifinal in Glendale, Arizona.

“Getting in the gym and working on my jump shot prepared me for this moment,” Stevenson told CBS Sports. “Working with coach (Nate) Oats and finding opportunities to make plays, defensively looking to make plays. That’s really paid off. … (this week) has been amazing. Having these moments, it’s great. Beating North Carolina, that was a great moment. Making it to the Final Four and making it past Clemson, that’s history made.”

Unsung heros stepping up in big moments has been the theme of Alabama’s deep NCAA Tournament run. In the second round, reserve big man Mouhamed Dioubate recorded nine points, five rebounds, and two blocks in a 72-61 win over GCU. In the Sweet 16 against No. 1 seed North Carolina, Nelson emerged by finishing with 24 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks in the 89-87 win over the Tar Heels.

In the Elite Eight, after Alabama All-American guard Mark Sears got off to a cold start and missed nine of his first 11 shots, it was Stevenson’s turn to become the hero. Stevenson’s steady and mature presence off the bench helped the Crimson Tide erase a 13-point deficit midway through the first half. It allowed the Crimson Tide to return to a high-tempo pace that propeled them to finish with the top-ranked scoring offense.

“His performance was everything,” Nelson said. “We are playing for a Final Four and Jarin, a freshman, who is supposed to be in high school this year, steps up and hits some of the biggest shots of his life. Having guys come off the bench when people are having foul trouble like me … that really switched this game around.”

Stevenson, the No. 50 player in the 2023 recruiting class by 247Sports, came into the night averaging 5.0 points and 2.7 rebounds in 16.8 minutes. He had only played more than 23 minutes four times in his career before logging 25 minutes on the biggest stage in the sport.

(He had a) season-high in the biggest game of his life, hit big shot after big shot, made tough play after tough play,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “He grew up tonight. Shoot, 19 points on 11 shots is pretty efficient basketball. Super proud of Jarin.”

Stevenson comes from a basketball family. His mother, Nicole, played basketball at North Carolina and won three ACC titles. His father, Jarod, played at Richmond and went on to play professionally for over a decade. Growing up around the game taught Jarin what it takes to succeed.

It’s part of why fellow big man Nick Pringle prioritized taking the teenager under his wing. He knows Stevenson has what it takes to bring his game to a different level – like he did against Clemson.

Stevenson has grown since the first meeting between Alabama and Clemson that occurred in November in the ACC/SEC Challenge. Stevenson logged eight minutes with zero points on that night – a stark contrast to what happened four months later with a Final Four berth on the line.

“I’m very proud of Jarin,” Pringle said. “He came into this game prepared. It’s unbelievable just to see his family in the crowd proud of him. He’s just a good dude overall. He is always willing to take coaching from anyone. … I have seen a lot of growth in him. He’s a sponge. He takes in a lot. He listens. Jarin is a guy that can play at three levels. He’s very talented and very smart. It doesn’t get better than Jarin Stevenson.”

When Alabama takes the floor in Glendale on Saturday, the question that will loom is who will be the next player to step up? The Crimson Tide’s high-powered offense will receive their biggest test against the team that is the biggest threat to repeat as champions in nearly two decades.

“It just shows that our team is deep,” Stevenson said. “We have a lot of guys that can go. Everyone is prepared for the moment when they get their chance or get their opportunity. And it’s paid off.”

It sure has. So did his decision to leave high school early after his contributions in an historic Alabama victory.

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