The Kansas Jayhawks survived a furious Providence rally to advance to the Elite Eight after a 66-61 victory over the Friars on Friday in the NCAA Tournament.
The Jayhawks (31-6) are the only remaining No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face either Iowa State or Miami (FL) for the right to advance to the Final Four in New Orleans.
With the victory, Kansas moved to No. 1 in all-time victories in NCAA history with 2,354 wins.
Once again, Remy Martin had a big game for Kansas, scoring 23 points off the bench as his incredible postseason run continued. And the Jayhawks needed it, even though they held Providence to 17 first-half points.
The Friars (27-6), undaunted, made a run to try and keep their run in the NCAA Tournament alive.
The Friars pushed their way back into the game in the second half behind Noah Horchler and Ed Croswell.
Croswell came off the bench to give the Friars nine points and six rebounds in place of a struggling Nate Watson. Horchler, meanwhile, had 10 points, most of it coming in the second half. In fact, it was Horchler’s basket that gave Providence its first lead of the game, 48-47, with under six minutes to play in the game.
But Kansas answered fast with a 7-0 run, including a three-point play from Jalen Wilson, a Christian Braun lay-up in transition and then a David McCormack put-back. All of that put Kansas back up 54-48.
Later, Ochai Agbaji’s dunk on an alley-oop pass from Braun gave the Jayhawks a 57-50 lead with 2:53 left and forced Providence to take a time out. That dunk punctuated a 10-2 run for Kansas since they gave up the lead.
From there, the Jayhawks hung on for dear life in a finish that wasn’t perfect.
“We didn’t make many plays the second half but we made enough,” Kansas head coach Bill Self told TBS’s Dana Jacobson after the game.
Kansas struggled a bit at the free-throw line down the stretch, including Martin. The Friars never cut Kansas’ lead down to a single possession and failed to take advantage of a bad switch between Agbaji and Martin on defense in the final minute.
Thanks to a miscommunication, the pair left Friars guard A.J. Reeves alone at the top of the key, but Reeves didn’t notice he was open and Al Durham — who led Providence with 21 points — wasn’t able to make the pass and nearly traveled in the process.
Kansas not only needed Martin’s great performance but it also needed Wilson, who had a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. With McCormack struggling most of the game, Wilson’s rebounding was key, as was Braun’s 10 rebounds.
Agbaji struggled offensively, finishing with just five points. But he also had a career-high four rebounds, part of an 11-block game for Kansas. Mitch Lightfoot also had four blocked shots.
Kansas held Providence to a Friar NCAA Tournament record-low 17 first-half points, which was also the fewest points Providence had scored in a first half since 1966. Still, Kansas was only up 26-17 at halftime and was only up because of Martin.
The former Arizona State guard, once again, gave the Jayhawks a huge lift off the bench. He entered the game averaging 14.7 points in his last four games, and by halftime Martin had 13 on 6-of-9 shooting.
“He creates separation with his speed and quickness and he can get his own shot,” Self said.
Martin came off the bench and gave Kansas a huge lift, at one point urging Kansas fans to get on their feet before playing defense in the final minute of the first half. The rest of the Jayhawks shot 6-of-27 by halftime.
Fortunately, the Kansas defense had a great first half. Kansas not only held Providence to 17 points, the Friars shot 20 percent from the floor and saw its shot blocked seven times, the same number of field goals Providence had at halftime.
The Friars shot 1-of-12 from the 3-point line, with Durham making the only 3-pointer with less than two minutes to play in the first half. That helped cut Kansas’ lead to 24-15 before the Jayhawks finished the half with a nine-point lead.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.