FORT WORTH, Texas — The Kansas Jayhawks became the first Big 12 team to move on to the NCAA Men’s Sweet 16, as the No. 1 seed defeated No. 9 Creighton, 79-72, on Saturday.
It was not an easy win for the Jayhawks (30-6), the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. Entering the game they knew the Bluejays were short-handed, thanks to injuries in the past month. Creighton (23-12) played just six players in the contest and hung in thanks to being volume shooters at the 3-point line and limiting Kansas’ offensive effectiveness as much as it could.
“You have to win games when it’s kind of ugly,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “I don’t think we could have won this game two months ago.”
But, with less than a minute left, Kansas finally put it away with some defense.
The Bluejays had a shot to take the lead, down 73-72, heading into the final minute. But Ryan Alexander’s pass to Alex O’Connell ended up in the hands of Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji, who flew to the other end for a dunk with 55 seconds left. O’Connell left the spot that Alexander was passing to on the play.
Then, on the other end, still with a chance to cut the lead or tie, Alexander drove to the basket and Kansas forward David McCormack blocked his shot. Kansas guard Remy Martin grabbed the ball, drew a foul and made two free throws with 31 seconds left to ice the game. Kansas finished the game on a 6-0 run.
Creighton played seriously short-handed on Saturday. The Bluejays were without center Ryan Kalkbrenner, who left Thursday’s game with a knee injury that will require surgery. The Bluejays were already without Big EAST Freshman of the Year Ryan Nembhard, who is out due to a wrist injury suffered in late February.
So, head coach Greg McDermott put the game in the hands of his 3-point shooters. The Blue Jays shot 28 for the game and made 12 of them, with nine of those makes coming in the first half. So, while the Bluejays shot worse than Kansas did overall, the 3-point shot helped keep Creighton in the game until the final minute.
“They said before the game they were going to let it fly and they did,” Self said about Creighton.
Arthur Kaluma led Creighton with 24 points, including four 3-pointers. O’Connell finished with 16 points and three 3-pointers, while Alexander and Ryan Hawkins had 14 points each. Hawkins also made three 3-pointers.
Kansas tried to ease away midway through the second half. An Agbaji 3-pointer and a pair of Wilson free throws gave Kansas an eight-point lead, 63-55, with nine minutes to play. After KeyShawn Feazell answered at the other end for Creighton, Jalen Coleman-Lands drained a wide-open 3-pointer to give Kansas a 66-57 lead with 8:17 left, prompting a Creighton time out.
But the Bluejays stayed within striking distance, trimming the lead to three points with 2:23 to play on an Alexander 3-pointer. Following an Agbaji miss at the other end, Feazell scored just his second basket of the game on a layup with 1:41 left to cut the lead to 73-72.
Martin, who brought Kansas big energy off the bench, especially in the first half, led Kansas with 20 points. Agbaji had 15 points, Jalen Wilson had 14 points and Christian Braun had 13 points. The Jayhawks were not as sharp as they were against Texas Southern, as they shot just 41 percent. But, Kansas was 19-of-20 from the free-throw line, which helped counteract Creighton’s volume at the 3-point line. To be fair, Creighton was 18-of-21 from the line.
“They played us differently than anyone has played us all year, Self said.
Kansas advances to the Sweet 16 for the 31st time in school history, but for the first time since 2018, when the Jayhawks went all the way to the Final Four.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.