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 his last six games and was one of four Jayhawks to score in double-figures.
Kansas, who 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. Clemson’s season ended with a 25-10 record.
KU jumped on the Tigers early and built an 11-4 advantage with four different Jayhawks contributing to the scoring effort, all over the first five minutes off action. The Jayhawk defense was active early as well, forcing five Clemson turnovers within the opening eight minutes of the game.
The Tigers didn’t have an answer for Udoka Azubuike in the early moments of the game as the 7-0 foot Jayhawk center scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half, which included six in the opening 10 minutes. The sophomore also pulled down six of his 11 rebounds in the opening 20 minutes 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 opening stanza.
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 its deficit before the break but a five-point Jayhawk possession dashed those hopes. After a flagrant foul on the Tigers, De Sousa converted on a pair of foul shots before Vick swished his second 3-pointer of the half and 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 put the Tigers into an even deeper hole, as KU led 49-29.
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 any Clemson momentum.
Despite going the final 4:41 without a field goal, the Jayhawks were able to hold off a valiant comeback attempt from the Tigers. Clemson closed the game on a 19-8 run to pull within two possessions, but some clutch KU free throw shooting from KU helped stave off the late charge. Kansas hit 8-of-10 free throws over the final 2:43 to seal the win, 80-76.
Newman led the Jayhawks in scoring for the fifth time in his 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 to go along with 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.