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Alabama gets big game from Mark Sears, beats Grand Canyon 72-61 in March Madness

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Mark Sears carried Alabama long enough for the Crimson Tide to get an unexpected contribution and reach the Sweet 16.

Who is Mouhamed Dioubate?

“He won us the game the last five minutes,” Sears said.

Sears had 26 points and 12 rebounds, Dioubate scored all nine of his points in the final 5 1/2 minutes, and fourth-seeded Alabama used a late surge to beat No. 12 seed Grand Canyon 72-61 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night.

Sears carried the Crimson Tide (23-11) for the better part of 35 minutes before getting some unexpected help from Dioubate. The 6-foot-7 freshman scored more than nine points only twice all season but made the most of his chance to contribute in the final minutes of a physical game with Alabama in foul trouble and without starter Latrell Wrightsell Jr., who suffered a head injury in the first half.

“I was just playing hard and I got lost in the game, honestly. I wasn’t thinking about scoring. I just let the game come to me,” Dioubate said. “Coach put me in with a few minutes left in the game because Jarin (Stevenson) fouled out and I just tried to play as hard as I can and let my defense contribute to offense, and that’s what I did.”

Alabama advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 10th time overall and third time in the last four seasons under coach Nate Oats. The Crimson Tide will play in a regional semifinal in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990-91; last year, Alabama was a No. 1 seed and fell to eventual national runner-up San Diego State.

This time, it'll be the Tide trying to take down top-seeded North Carolina on Thursday in a West Region semifinal in Los Angeles.

“We had multiple guys in there putting their nose in and making tough plays,” Oats said. “Sears wasn’t going to lose. He wasn’t letting us lose tonight.”

Sears made 8 of 18 shots and cheekily waved goodbye in the final seconds to the Grand Canyon “Havocs” fans who filled Spokane Arena. Dioubate also grabbed five rebounds — all on the offensive end — in his 12 minutes and played solid defense on Grand Canyon star Tyon Grant-Foster.

Grant-Foster scored 29 points, one off his career high, but didn’t score in the final 4 minutes. The Lopes shot 32%, including a brutal 3 of 17 to begin the game. Grand Canyon (31-4) also couldn’t find anything from beyond the 3-point arc, going 2 of 20. Coach Bryce Drew's squad came in averaging seven 3s per game.

“The offensive rebounds were the most, probably the biggest difference in the game, even despite our shooting,” Drew said. “If we rebound, I think the last five minutes goes different.”

Alabama led 42-32 early in the second half, only to see the Lopes chip away. Grand Canyon took a 56-55 lead on Collin Moore’s free throw with 6:25 left — its first lead since it was 9-7 — and Grant-Foster scored off Alabama’s 10th turnover of the half for a 58-55 lead with 6:03 left.

The Tide responded with seven straight points. Dioubate scored on a three-point play off an offensive rebound and added a slashing basket through traffic. He made two more free throws with 3:48 left to give Alabama a 64-61 lead, and his basket with 2:25 left pushed the lead to five.

Dioubate's three-point play and his last basket both came off offensive rebounds by the Tide.

“We knew we had a chance to win that game,” Grant-Foster said. “I will just say we were one rebound away from winning that game. We get one rebound, like, the game’s turned. We win that game.”

Alabama played the final 26-plus minutes without Wrightsell, who took an inadvertent elbow to the head. Oats said he believes Wrightsell will be available against North Carolina.

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Alabama and North Carolina have not met in March Madness since 1992, when the fourth-seeded Tar Heels beat the fifth-seeded Tide 64-55 in the second round. The teams last met early in the 2022-23 season, when the Tide won a wild game 103-101 in four overtimes.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness