Louisville, Ky. In a city and state known for horse racing, the Kansas University men’s basketball team saddled up its Thoroughbred on Thursday night at the KFC Yum! Center and rode him into the Elite Eight.
KU senior Perry Ellis scored a tournament-high 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting and 7-of-7 from the free-throw line to lead the Jayhawks to a 79-63 victory over fifth-seeded Maryland in the Sweet 16.
The victory moves KU into the Elite Eight on Saturday, where they’ll be 40 minutes away from a return trip to the Final Four.
Thursday’s victory was far from easy. And Kansas (33-4) needed everything it got from Ellis, who scored inside, on jumpers and at the foul line to lead the Kansas offense.
View a gallery of images from the Jayhawks' Sweet Sixteen matchup against the Terrapins.
Wayne Selden Jr. also did his share of carrying Kansas when Ellis couldn’t, finishing with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
Kansas certainly had to feel fortunate to be ahead at halftime. Despite the first 20 minutes including seven lead changes, the game seemed to be controlled by Maryland most of the way and KU did all it could to grind and stay with the Terrapins.
Ellis finished the half with 12 points and was one of the few Jayhawks who looked comfortable attacking in the offense. Selden had 9 points at the break. Frank Mason III and Devonté Graham combined for 4 first-half points on 1-of-8 shooting in half in which Maryland’s guards got the best of the backcourt battle, outscoring KU on the offensive end and disrupting the Jayhawks’ rhythm on defense.
Behind seven early second-half points from Selden and a big time three from Mason, the Jayhawks built a seven-point lead by the 16-minute mark with a 14-9 run to open the half.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self answers questions from the media following the Jayhawks' 79-63 victory over Maryland in Louisville, Kentucky.
After Maryland tied the game at 43, Ellis and Selden combined for seven straight points to put KU back in front.
The Jayhawks played the rest of the second half from in front, and, even though they missed a few opportunities to make the final 20 minutes much more comfortable for themselves, came through with clutch play after clutch play to seal the victory.
Here’s a quick look back at some of Thursday’s Sweet 16 action:
• The game turned when: Kansas figured out that it could (and should) run every single offensive possession through Ellis. That came midway through the second half and Maryland was powerless to stop it. It also didn’t hurt when Maryland big man Diamond Stone picked up his third foul early in the second half.
• Offensive highlight: Inside the final minute of the first half, with the game tied at 34, KU’s Selden drove down the lane to his right and tossed a soft lob to Landen Lucas trailing the play. Although Lucas did not finish with a flush, he did catch it in stride and laid it off the glass softly to give KU a 36-34 halftime lead. On back-to-back possessions early in the second half, Ellis caught the ball on the baseline and went to work attacking the rim on the drive. Each time, Ellis muscled his way to the block and then elevated to put the ball off the glass to keep KU in front. Selden followed that with a mini 5-0 run that featured a should-I-shoot-it-or-not three-pointer and a little floater in the lane to finish off another transition opportunity for Kansas.
• Defensive highlight: After a pair of made free throws by Ellis cut Maryland’s lead to 14-10, Graham stayed up to pressure the inbounds pass and stole an extra possession for the Jayhawks, who made the most of it with a monster dunk by Ellis. Late in the second half, after scoring an easy bucket on the block, junior forward Lucas dug in for a charge on the following possession and that put Kansas in position to build its largest lead of the night, which it did on a jumper from Ellis.
• Key stat: Heading into this one, KU’s ability to hang on the glass was a huge key and a big question mark. The Jayhawks answered the question in resounding fashion, dominating the rebounding battle, 43-28. Landen Lucas again led the way with 11 rebounds on a night when he also recorded 14 points to snag a double-double.
• Up next: The Jayhawks advance to the Elite 8 for the first time since 2012, when they defeated North Carolina to reach the Final Four. Top-seeded Kansas will play No. 2 seed Villanova on Saturday at Yum! Center. Time will be determined later.
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