2018-03-25 21:23:02
Malik Newman Leads Kansas Past Duke and Into the Final Four

21:23, March 25 72 0

OMAHA — By the time Malik Newman, the Kansas sophomore, received the ball in the corner, open and already beginning his shooting motion, with the Midwest Regional final versus Duke tied and less than two minutes left in overtime, the outcome of the play felt predetermined.

If you drop a hammer on a planet with gravity, does it not fall to the ground? If you give Newman an open corner 3, doesn’t it find its way through the rim?

It does, and it did — it was Newman’s fifth 3-pointer of the game, all coming after halftime. He finished with 32 points, none bigger than the 3 that put Kansas up by 81-78, a lead the Jayhawks would not relinquish.

Kansas, a No. 1 seed, held on for the next 1 minute 49 seconds to beat second-seeded Duke, 85-81. The Jayhawks will head to the Final Four next weekend in San Antonio, where they will play another top seed, Villanova. The winner of that game will play the winner of Loyola-Michigan for the national championship on Monday, April 2.

“That was an epic game,” Kansas Coach Bill Self said. “One of the best ones, if not the best, that I’ve ever been a part of.”

Entering Sunday’s regional final, Kansas was 2-5 in round of 8 games during the Self era, losing at this stage in each of the past two seasons. If there was a persistent knock on college basketball’s most consistent program, whose streak of 29 consecutive N.C.A.A. tournament berths is the longest ever, it was this: always good, rarely great.

But on Sunday, in a matchup with a fellow blue blood — a Duke team loaded with one-and-done freshmen and considered by many to be the most talented squad in the field — that record improved to 3-5.

The Jayhawks found some good fortune when the Duke freshman Wendell Carter Jr. — not its most heralded player, but quite possibly its most valuable — ran into early foul trouble. They may also have gotten a little indirect luck when their own starting big man, Udoka Azubuike, also got into early foul trouble, forcing them into a 3-point-centric strategy that proved just the thing to beat Duke’s zone defense.

Grayson Allen — the Duke senior who finished his notorious tenure as the latest in a long line of Duke villains — played a subpar game, going 3 for 13 from the field. Despite a size disadvantage, Kansas dominated the boards, outrebounding Duke by 47-32.

Duke, despite being a lower seed, was favored in the game by oddsmakers. All five players in its starting lineup, four of whom are freshmen, could be first-round N.B.A. draft picks. A round of 8 appearance is nothing shoddy, but the defeat could lead to further questioning of the wisdom of recruiting one-and-done freshmen.

The young Blue Devils were also up against an overwhelmingly pro-Jayhawks crowd on Sunday. You could hear it in the roars when calls went against Kansas, as they often did.

Both teams came out cold; Duke’s first two 3-point attempts did not even hit the rim. Like heavyweights feeling each other out in the early rounds, Duke and Kansas deployed several different lineups, trying to figure out how to beat the other.

The best first half for Duke belonged to point guard Trevon Duval, the least heralded of the four top Blue Devil freshmen. Slamming home a drive with 45 seconds left to maintain Duke’s narrow lead gave him 13 points. He finished as Duke’s scoring leader, with 20 points along with 6 assists.

In the second half, Kansas appeared to catch Duke’s zone defense in the exact wrong place, with two open 3-pointers for Newman, both of which he drained, and a third for junior Lagerald Vick, which also went in, giving Kansas a 44-39 lead early shortly after halftime.

Asked after the game whether he had thought Newman was capable of such a performance, Vick said, “You ever watch his A.A.U. clips? You’ve got to watch those.”

The game seesawed from there. Carter was a difference-maker when he played, scoring 7 of Duke’s 11 points in one stretch and providing a crucial combination of size and mobility on defense. But he fouled out a little more than two minutes into overtime, leaving the Blue Devils fatally vulnerable.

Allen nearly won the game in regulation with a drive and a bank-shot that rimmed out as time expired. In overtime, Duke drew first blood, with Duval driving for the layup, but the Kansas senior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk quickly responded with his third 3-pointer of the game. He finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, along with his first trip to the Final Four.