OMAHA, Neb. — Once Kansas found its stride, Clemson had little chance of keeping pace – even after a late stumble.
The No. 1 Jayhawks ran away from the No. 5 Tigers with a second-half flurry that powered them to a 80-76 victory Friday night at CenturyLink Center to put them in the Elite Eight on Sunday against either Duke or Syracuse.
Kansas moves on to the Midwest Region final on the back of a second-half offense that Clemson had nearly no success in slowing until the final minutes, when the Tigers turned a 20-point laugher into a six-point nail-biter.
“I thought for 30 minutes, I thought we played very well,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But we just kind of played not to lose down the stretch and allowed them to put some game pressure on us.
“But they say this time of year is survive and advance, and we were able to do that. And certainly very happy about getting a chance to play in the biggest game of our season thus far Sunday.”
Malik Newman paced Kansas with 17 points while Devonte Graham 16 and Udoka Azubuike 14 and 11 rebounds.
“My confidence is sky high,” Newman said. “I’m not really out there thinking anymore, just playing, doing what Coach asked me to do and just trying to make plays, winning plays for the team to win. I mean, I just credit it to my teammates and the coaches.”
Clemson got 31 points from senior Gabe DeVoe, but there just wasn’t enough help around him for the Tigers to keep things competitive after the Jayhawks hit them with three-consecutive 3s in the opening minutes of the second half to open up a 20-point lead.
“I just tried in any way possible to give my team a chance to win at the end,” DeVoe said. “Really tried to rally the guys in the first half when we got down, just continued to fight. Made
some big stops down the stretch, gave us a chance but we just weren’t able to get over the hump.”
Clemson was already hanging on by a threat after it shot just 35.7 percent from the floor and committed eight turnovers. DeVoe’s 12 first-half points kept the Tigers afloat, but they never enjoyed a lead before halftime.
The Jayhawks, meanwhile, had five players score at least six points in the first half, including 10 from Azubuike, Their usual strengths – 3-point shooting (4 of 13) and Devonte Graham (1 of 7) – were absent in the first half, but Clemson was unable to take advantage as Kansas continued to get quality looks inside and stops on defense.
The Jayhawks previously played Syracuse in December, beating the Orange by 16 on a neutral floor in Miami. They haven’t faced the Blue Devils, though they have already shared a building with them once this year in the Champion’s Classic. Kansas topped Kentucky, 65-61, while Duke defeated Michigan State, 88-81, that November night in Chicago.