Mr. March: Malik Newman carries Jayhawks past Duke, into Final Four

KU returns to Final Four for first time since 2012

Kansas guard Malik Newman (14) floats in to the bucket against Duke forward Javin DeLaurier (12) during the second half, Sunday, March 25, 2018 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.

Omaha, Neb. — It would be next to impossible to take complete inventory of all of the celebratory moments that followed top-seeded Kansas' 85-81, overtime victory over second-seeded Duke at CenturyLink Center on Sunday night.

There were almost as many memorable postgame moments as there were those that transpired on the floor during a wild and crazy Elite Eight clash between two of college basketball's most storied and dominant programs.

Lagerald Vick hopping on the scorer's table as soon as the final horn sounded. Bill Self pumping both fists in the air on the KU sideline so hard that he almost fell backwards. Devonte’ Graham breaking down in tears with his mother and grandma and then hustling up the ladder to be the first Jayhawk to get a piece of the net. Silvio De Sousa dumping the red and blue Powerade confetti on his teammates who were holding the regional championship trophy on the stage at midcourt. Udoka Azubuike moving the Jayhawks into the next round on the big bracket.

And, of course, hundreds of screaming Kansas fans living it up and partying in the moment at a louder volume than the noise they delivered during KU's thrilling victory.

But when the confetti stopped falling and the band stopped blaring, the Jayhawks were more than happy to relive all of the moments on the floor — hard-nosed, nasty, that led them back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012 and the third time in Bill Self's 15 seasons at Kansas.

“It still feels like I'm living in a dream right now,” said Kansas sophomore Malik Newman after continuing his scorching postseason run with 32 points in 44 minutes, including five 3-pointers and an 11-of-12 clip at the free-throw line. “But I see us cutting down these nets and we've got the trophy, so I know it's real. But I still feel like I'm in a dream.”

That might well have described the way fans of high-level college basketball would have dubbed their feelings during Sunday's so-good-we-might-as-well-play-five-more-minutes affair.

The Jayhawks (31-7) and Blue Devils (29-8) both played some of their best basketball of the season and rarely were able to work their way into anything close to resembling a comfort zone.

Duke led 36-33 at the break and Kansas led for most of the second half. But with the Jayhawks tightening up just a smidge late, Duke took a three-point lead into the final minute.

At the time, it probably was not the most enviable of positions for the Jayhawks to be in. After all, they led by as many as seven at the 15:30 mark of the second half and, for the most part, had an answer every time Duke chipped into that lead.

Most often, that answer was Newman, who did his prettiest work in the corners and did his dirtiest work in the heart of the Blue Devils' zone defense, driving hard to the rim and getting fouled or finishing nearly every time.

The surging sophomore scored all 13 of KU's points in the overtime session, including two 3-pointers and the four free throws that iced the game.

“Oh, man, he went crazy,” said Graham, who finished finished with 11 points, six rebounds and six assists in all 45 minutes. “Malik definitely carried us. He was playing great. Call him ‘Mr. March.’ Eh. We're going to stick with ‘Postseason 'Lik.’ It's working.”

Related document

Box score: Kansas 85, Duke 81 ( .PDF )

For all of Newman's surface-of-the-sun-hot offensive moments, it might have been his late defensive stop that mattered most. After KU senior Svi Mykhailiuk (11 points, 10 rebounds and five assists) tied the game at 72 with one of his three 3-pointers with 25.7 seconds to play, it was Newman who locked in on Duke's Grayson Allen and forced the Duke senior into a tough, off-balance, off-the-glass would-be game winner. Despite the strong defense, Allen's shot still got to the rim and rolled around twice. After it fell off to the sound of the horn signaling the end of regulation, the KU bench exploded onto the floor and the Jayhawks took a fair dose of momentum into the five-minute overtime period.

It was not quite the same feeling Self's Jayhawks had when the 2008 national championship game against Memphis went to overtime. But it was close.

“It was just new life for us,” Newman said. “There were five more minutes to go, it was anybody's ballgame and I knew we could pull it off.”

Added Self: “Malik defended it perfectly. And I think that stop did give us some confidence going into overtime. No question.”

Duke struck first in the OT, with freshman guard Trevon Duval, who picked Duke over Kansas less than a year ago, giving the Blue Devils a two-point lead on the first possession of the extra period.

Newman answered with a 3-pointer to put KU ahead and the two teams traded leads for the next few minutes, merely adding to what was already easily in the running for college basketball's game of the year.

Starting with a pair of Newman free throws that tied the game at 78, the KU sophomore closed on 9-3 run, burying one more triple and six free throws to send the Jayhawks to San Antonio.

“He's been the best player on our team for the last three weeks,” Self said of Newman. “He was the best player in the Big 12 tournament. I thought he was arguably the best player in Wichita. And he was definitely the best player today. I'm so proud of him. He's worked hard and he cares about all the right things. I think they all do.”

Pinpointing what the right thing was became oh so easy after the final horn sounded. After back-to-back heart-wrenching losses ended their season in each of the past two years, the Jayhawks finally broke through and were able to experience the feeling of cutting down a net that signified something other than their 14-year dominance in the Big 12.

“That was the plan all along,” Newman said. “To get here. A lot of people thought we wouldn't be able to make it, but I know what kind of guys I'm competing with. They're tough, they're hard-nosed and we love one another. I had no doubt that we could get to San Antonio.”

For Graham, who was last to trim the nets in Kansas City, Mo., two weeks ago after the Big 12 tourney victory and first to get his prize on Sunday night, the feeling was nearly indescribable.

“That pair was a special pair right there,” he said of the scissors he used to cut the net. “I finally got over that hump that I've been talking about and it felt great. I was too anxious to get up there, so I just went up first.”

Asked for what must've been the 100th time how he felt in the aftermath of the biggest victory of his life, Graham summed it up ever so simply, but rather fittingly, as well.

“I'm smiling. I'm happy,” he said. “I don't even know how to describe it. … Definitely the best moment of my career. This is what we've been working for for the last four years and we finally get to experience it.”

As for Self, whose record in Elite Eight games — now 3-5 at Kansas and 3-7 all-time — has been the source of some serious criticism throughout the years, the KU coach who has been as hard on this team as any group he's ever had, called Sunday's feat the best of the three.

“The first one was relief, against Davidson,” he began of his first trip to the Final Four in 2008. “The second one was a little bit of surprise, with the 2012 team. And this one, I'll be honest, I think it feels better than the other ones because we had to play an unbelievable team, an unbelievable coach and we had to play our best game of the season.”

Just how good was that “best game?”

“I would say this is the second-best win that we've ever had,” he said, noting that only the 2008 title-game victory over Memphis ranks above it. “That was a big-boy game, a heavyweight bout, and we fortunately caught them late with a pretty good right, because that could've gone either way.”

The Jayhawks join top-seeded Villanova, third-seeded Michigan and 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago at this year's Final Four in San Antonio.

They will face Jay Wright's Villanova squad — one of the two programs that kept KU from getting to this point two years ago — at 7:49 p.m. central time in Saturday's second game, with a berth in the national title game on the line.

“You come back for this right here,” Graham said before joining his family back out on the floor for a little more celebrating. “This tops it all off. We're going to the Final Four.”

Comments

Kit Duncan

Great game! Now, let the “revenge” tour continue. Duke (‘86,‘91), Villanova (‘16), Michigan (‘13). Remember those games, Hawks!

RCJH!!!

7 months ago

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Matthew Coleman

One of the critical points so often overlooked is Svi swatting away the rebound from Grayson's miss. Many have noted how it almost went in at the end of regulation, but player of the year candidate Bagley was in the air ready to jam the putback in for the win, but Svi was right on time and blew up the play to give us new life. The value of seniors attention to the little details - especially seniors who have lost big games - has been critical for us.

6 months, 3 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

I did not realize that Malik had all 13 of Kansas' overtime points.

Think of it. **Malik Newman personally outscored Duke 13-9 in overtime.**

Dude has come a long way from the discombobulated player he was in November and December. I used to cringe whenever the ball was in his hands because he was a turnover or blocked shot waiting to happen. Now he is the best player on the team, bar none.

Look out, San Antonio, here come the Kansas Jayhawks!

7 months ago

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Harlan Hobbs

Hard to express in words how far Malik has come in the last month or so. I predict that he will be a first round draft pick before it is all over. He's a true talent that can practically get his shot whenever he wants. He wants the ball and then does something with it just about every time.

Great game by everyone who played and coached. The energy and fortitude was off the charts, and every bit of it was needed to knock off Duke.

7 months ago

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Ben Kane

This team is really a joy to watch and it's so much sweeter taking down duke.

Not much I can say about Malik, we all know, but this was the first time this season I was begging for Devonte to defer to Malik late in the game and overtime. That dude is the definition of clutch.

Something is wrong with Devonte's shot right now. The more time he has to think about a shot the worse he misses. It has to be a mental thing. Hopefully he sees the ball go through the net a bunch this week and snaps out of it. He has to keep shooting his way through it. Props to him though for maintaining great play in all other areas and setting up others so well.

On another note, I think it was probably the big12's best tourney performance ever so that was good to see.

I said from the beginning you can't fear the big teams like the potential msu/duke matchup if you want to win a title and i feel the same way about Nova.

Go get 'em boys! Let it fly!

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Tony Bandle

Ben, maybe, but having Kansas and Oklahoma in the championship game in 1988 was pretty darn good!!

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

Of course, that wasn't the Big 12; that was the Big 8. And the Big 12 does not claim the history of the Big 8 as its own. So, the year KU beat OU for the title in 1988 was the Big 8's best tourney showing, and this year, with four Big 12 teams in the Sweet 16 and three in the Elite 8, was the Big 12's best showing.

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Marius Rowlanski

I think Devante is fine, probably just a little tired of carrying this team for most of January and February. The Jayhawks will get a few days to recover and most likely some light walk-through practices.

With the game on the line, Devante is still my first choice.

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

Reid Forgrave of CBS Sports has glossed these guys "Malik and the Miracles":

https://www.cbssports.com/college-bas...

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Daniel Kennamore

I get why he'd go that route with both of our national titles having a variation of 'miracle'...but this one was not.

The only miracle last night was Duke not getting blown out completely. We dominated that game and it was only tight because of a few missed wide open shots.

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Ben Kane

slight miracle that Allen's shot didn't go in, it stayed on the rim forever.

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Marius Rowlanski

George Burns kicked it out at the last second. Thought the wrong Gracie Allen was getting too much attention.

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

"Both of our national titles"? We have a third title from 1952, and that was no miracle. That was straight-up being the best team in college basketball!

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Kit Duncan

I don’t think Kansas “dominated” the game last night. Neither did Duke. It was a great back and forth contest played by two extremely talented teams! As the announcers said, it might come to be be remembered as the best game of this college basketball season.

But there are yet three more games to be played. It’s entirely possible, definitely hopeful, that Kansas will be victorious in two of them! And one, or both, could equal yesterday’s game in excitement!

RCJH!!!

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Marius Rowlanski

I am inclined to agree. 18 lead changes alone show that this game was hotly contested.

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Jonathan Allison

I have questioned at times this season why Bill Self recruited all of the transfers the way that he did, putting us short-handed this year with Cunliffe available only half the year and the Lawsons and Charlie Moore ineligible all season.

Now I think that the answer to that question is probably as simple as Malik Newman. I think that Bill Self expected Malik Newman to be the high scorer and best player on the team this year and expected him to carry us throughout the season. Before the season started we all knew that it was possible that Malik Newman would be our best player, but three months in we had all but written Newman off as a decent role player who could score a little bit and rebound from the guard position.

Then the calendar turned to March and regular season ended and Kansas went to the Big 12 tourney in KC power and light district the power and lights came on for the Malik Newman that Bill Self recruited and intended to rely on due to the long list of ineligible transfer players waiting their turn.

If Malik's incredible post-season propels him into the NBA draft this year, then it was well worth it for what he's brought in a few short weeks. I have to point out that someone has to leave in order to open up the scholarship for Ochai Agbaji, who's commitment to KU created a guessing game of which player would not return. The common guesses seemed to be Vick, Malik, Dok, and Cunliffe though history indicates that a <I>surprise</I> departure should be unsurprising. Of course I'd love to have Malik back next year, but if the young man chooses to chase the dream sooner rather than later than more power (and lights) to him.

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Harlan Hobbs

Who would have ever thought that KU would outrebound Duke. That was clearly one of the big factors.

Right now, Malik is perhaps the best player in the country, and he gives KU a dimension that they didn't have when we played Villanova the last time.

In 2016, Villanova was determined to not let Perry Ellis beat them. They succeeded with that, and KU didn't have a strong enough answer. This year, KU has more presence all over the court, so hopefully KU will have a big game against Villanova on Saturday.

Also, Silvio's back up of Udoka was exceptional, and he will be a star next year for sure.

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Dave Miller

Anyone notice how the number '8' keeps cropping up?

It's twenty EIGHTeen

Coach Self's EIGHTh elite EIGHT

Coach Self's record in the elite EIGHT is 3 - 5 (8)

In the Duke vs Kansas game there were EIGHTeen lead changes

Kansas' first trip to the final 4 since 2012 (2012 - 4 = two zero zero EIGHT)

Coach Bill Self's first National Championship was in two zero zero EIGHT.

Malik Newman's jersey number is 14. Lagerald Vick's jersey number is 2. Add them up and that is 16. Divide 16 by the 2 (of them) and that is EIGHT.

Consequently, Silvio DeSousa's jersey number is 22. Malik Newman's jersey number is 14. Subtract 14 from 22 and that is EGHT.

Kansas beat Duke EIGHTy five to EIGHTy one.

I know some of this is kinda stretching it a bit, but it was a fun exercise.

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

Stretching? Bro, you are working WAY too hard for this. Lie down before you hurt yourself. ;)

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Dave Miller

lol one more:

KU is 31 - 7 = thirty EIGHT

sorry....just had to throw that in... :)

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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Mike Johns

I am sure that this has been brought up... but HCBS and the staff handling of Silvio has been genius.
RCJHKU

6 months, 4 weeks ago

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