NCAA Tournament: Kansas holds off Clemson; Villanova victorious

Jayhawk Adoka Azubuike dunks over Clemson's Aamir Simms - Getty Images

Kansas and Villanova were the only No. 1 seeds to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The Jayhawks and Wildcats are still alive after winning their regional semifinal tonight.

Kansas coughed up most of a 20-point, second-half lead before holding off No. 5 Clemson, 80-76 in the Midwest Region at Omaha. The Jayhawks led 62-42, but the Tigers pulled within six with 2:27 remaining before Devonte Graham grabbed a huge offensive rebound that allowed Kansas to kill almost a full minute off the clock.

Malik Newman had a team-high 17 points for Kansas, which is in the regional finals as a No. 1 seed for the third straight year. The Jayhawks failed to reach the Final Four the previous two seasons.

Gabe DeVoe had a career-high 31 points for Clemson, which finished the season 25-10.

Villanova advanced in the East Region final by rallying for a 90-78 win against No. 5 West Virginia in Boston. The Wildcats trailed by six before scoring 11 straight to take a 65-60 lead with about nine minutes to play. Villanova later put together a 10-4 spurt that put them up by double digits.

Jalen Brunson poured in 27 points and Omari Spellman added 18 with eight rebounds for the 2016 national champs.

Daxter Miles Jr. scored 16 for the Mountaineers before fouling out with just over two minutes left.

Game 2 at Omaha has second seed Duke against No. 11 Syracuse. The Orange were the last team selected to the tournament before winning three straight, including a First Four victory against Arizona State.

The action in Boston concludes with No. 2 Purdue taking on third seed Texas Tech.

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(AP) – For the third year in a row, Kansas made it through the Sweet 16 — although not before Clemson tried its hardest to add another wild chapter to an already unbelievable tournament.

The top-seeded Jayhawks brought at least a temporary halt to the insanity of this March, withstanding a ferocious rally by fifth-seeded Clemson on Friday for a too-close-for-comfort, 80-76 victory.

Malik Newman led the Jayhawks (30-7) with 17 points in a one-time runaway that got much closer and, quite frankly, won’t mean much to KU fans if their team can’t finish the job in the Midwest Region final Sunday.

As a top seed the last two seasons, Kansas made it through the regional semifinals, only to flop a game shy of the Final Four both times. In fact, this marks the sixth time Bill Self’s team has been seeded first since KU won it all in 2008; the Jayhawks haven’t made the Final Four one of those times.

“I think about it all the time. I just told the guys in the locker room…this year, we’ve got to get over the hump,” said senior Devonte’ Graham, who had 16 points.

Still, it could’ve ended on Friday — in horrifying fashion — after Clemson stormed back from a 20-point deficit that stunned a crowd filled mostly with fans from Lawrence and surrounding areas, which are only a few hours from Omaha.

“We just kind of played not to lose down the stretch,” Self said.

Clemson trailed 62-42, but climbed to within six with 2:27 left. Graham’s offensive rebound after a Svi Mykhailiuk miss at the 1:57 mark allowed the Jayhawks to run almost a minute off the clock.

Kansas didn’t score after Graham’s rebound, and the Tigers got the next board for a chance to cut it to a one-possession game. But Shelton Mitchell and Gabe DeVoe each missed from beyond the arc. From there, Kansas overcame a dogged Clemson press just long enough to ensure that the Tigers couldn’t pull any closer until the tail end.

DeVoe had a career-high 31 for Clemson (25-10), which couldn’t replicate the magic it showed in beating Auburn by 31 to reach its first Sweet 16 in 21 years.

“We didn’t have our best game. Sometimes that’s not easy to keep fighting like that,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.

PIVOTAL MOMENT

Clemson had scored five straight points to cut KU’s lead to 35-27 late in the first half when Elijah Thomas, after a review, was called for a flagrant foul. Silvio De Sousa knocked down the free throws, Lagerald Vick buried a 3 and Kansas cruised into halftime ahead 40-27. Vick, Newman and Graham then opened the second half with 3s to extend the lead to 20.

BIG PICTURE

One of the most encouraging signs for Kansas was that it jumped ahead by 13 at halftime despite a 1-for-7 start by Graham, the Big 12 player of the year. Big man Udoka Azubuike looked strong in his first start of the tournament with 14 points and 11 rebounds in a tournament-high 25 minutes.

FOR REAL?

What a wild 12 months it’s been for Brownell, the Clemson coach. He entered the season on the hot seat after six straight seasons without even making the NCAA Tournament. But the Tigers reached the regional semifinals for the first time since 1997 even after losing Donte Grantham, arguably their best player. The big question next is whether 2017-18 will prove a one shot wonder or the start of something big in the Upstate. Clemson has spent money on facilities to become a basketball school — but will it ever get out of the shadow cast by Dabo Swinney’s football team?

TIGERS CLAW BACK

For the final 12 minutes, Clemson played like the team that throttled Auburn to earn a crack at the Jayhawks. The Tigers didn’t turn it over once down the stretch, and they finished 14 of 19 at the free throw line — which was a strong point all year. But while Kansas hardly looked like a No. 1 seed down the stretch, it did improve to 25-1 this season when leading at the break.

DOKE LOOKED DOPE

Azubuike finished with his sixth double-double of the season. His presence forced Clemson to give more space to KU’s shooters, who went 10 of 22 on 3s.

HE SAID IT

“This is the team everyone would have thought … would not be in this game. We’ve got a legitimate shot to go to San Antonio. I think we’ll play with no ‘what ifs.’ I think we’ll be loose,” Self said.

VEGAS KNOWS

Kansas came in as a 4 ½-point favorite — a number that didn’t look to be in play … until it was.

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More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org ; https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 and https://www.podcastone.com/ap-sports-special-events

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