Jayhawks withstand Clemson rally, reach Elite Eight
OMAHA, Neb. – A well-balanced scoring effort led by redshirt-sophomore Malik Newman saw the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks outlast the No. 5 seed Clemson Tigers, 80-76, in the NCAA Championship’s Sweet 16 inside CenturyLink Center Friday night. Newman led KU in scoring for the fifth time in the last six games and was one of four Jayhawks to score in double-figures.
Kansas, which advanced to the Elite Eight for the third-straight year and the eighth time under head coach Bill Self, moved to 30-7 on the year.
With four different Jayhawks contributing to the scoring, KU jumped on the Tigers early and built an 11-4 advantage in the first five minutes of action. The Jayhawk defense was active early as well, forcing five Clemson turnovers within the opening eight minutes.
The Tigers didn’t have an answer for Udoka Azubuike early in the game. The 7-0 foot Jayhawk center scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half, including six in the opening 10 minutes. The sophomore also pulled down six of his 11 rebounds in the opening half as Kansas established a dominating presence in the paint.
After KU opened the game hitting just five of its first 15 shots, the Jayhawk shooters found their touch. A 3-pointer from Newman at the 12:11 mark began an eight-minute stretch that saw Kansas connect on nine of its next 12 tries from the field. The run was highlighted by a Graham lob to Silvio De Sousa from half court that the freshman forward flushed home to put the Jayhawks ahead, 25-19, with 7:43 to play in the half.
The KU defense stayed stingy and held the Tigers to just two field goals over the final eight minutes of the half, helping the Jayhawks build its first double-digit lead of the game. A pair of dunks from Azubuike and a high-flying put-back jam from Lagerald Vick helped the Jayhawks get out to a 13-point advantage, 35-22, with 2:17 left in the half.
Clemson attempted to put a dent in the deficit before the break, but a five-point Jayhawk possession dashed those hopes. After a flagrant foul on the Tigers, De Sousa converted a pair of foul shots before Vick swished his second 3-pointer of the half. KU headed to the locker room with a 40-27 lead.
KU exploded out of the intermission and was able to extend its lead to 20 points less than two minutes into the second frame. Three-straight 3-pointers – from Vick, Newman and Graham – gave KU a 49-29 lead.
Clemson managed to whittle its deficit to 15 points several times over the next 10 minutes, but each time the Jayhawks had an answer. With KU leading, 62-47, after a quick 5-0 Clemson spurt, Graham hit his second 3-pointer of the night to halt the Clemson momentum.
Despite going the final 4:41 without a field goal, the Jayhawks were able to hold off a valiant comeback attempt by the Tigers. Clemson closed the game on a 19-8 run to pull within two possessions, but some clutch KU free-throw shooting helped stave off the late charge. Kansas hit 8-of-10 free throws over the final 2:43 to seal the win.
Newman led the Jayhawks in scoring for the fifth time in the last six games, scoring 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He was joined by four teammates in double figures. Graham posted a 16-point effort to go along with five rebounds and four assists, Azubuike tallied his sixth double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Vick added 13 points and eight rebounds.
With Kansas win, the Jayhawks advanced to their third-straight and 23rd NCAA Elite Eight. It is the eighth Elite Eight for Kansas under head coach Bill Self. KU would play the winner of the No. 2 seed Duke versus No. 11 seed Syracuse game on Sunday, March 25 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
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