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NCAA Tournament held in Omaha makes for epic game

April 9, 2018

The city of Omaha has seen plenty of incredible sporting events over the years. The two Nebraska Volleyball national titles, Purdue-Kansas and Norfolk State-Missouri in 2012, Three United States Olympic Swim Trials, Kansas-Wichita State in 2015, just to name a few. Even Joe Frazier came to Omaha for a world heavyweight title bout in 1972. But the 15-round fight at the CenturyLink Center on March 25, was an instant classic.  

 

As soon as the Sweet 16 games were over the preceding Friday night, the stage was set for what would be an incredible Midwest Regional Final. For the right to go the Final Four, Kansas and Duke went blow for blow, each refusing to back down to the opposition.  

 

From the opening tip, it was wildly entertaining. The Jayhawks ended the first 20 minutes down 36-33 after missing a bunny at the buzzer, and went to locker room hoping to end their recent troubles in this round of the NCAA Tournament. Kansas had made the Elite Eight each of the previous two years, and both times lost and failed to reach the Final Four.  

 

In the other locker room, Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski was 20 minutes away from making his 13th Final Four. It would break John Wooden’s record of 12 appearances in the national semifinals. Within the first two minutes of the second half, KU guard Malik Newman buried two threes and had his team up 39-37. It was part of a 15-5 Jayhawk run that had Kansas leading 48-41 with 15:13 remaining. Duke then responded with a quick 6-0 run, and got within 48-47 with 13:33 left. The largest the gap would get for either team the rest of regulation would be 5 points.  

 

The Blue Devils finally tied it at 57 at the 9:57 mark on Marvin Bagley III’s layup. The two teams then traded runs and Duke headed into the final media timeout up 68-67. After a Kansas dunk, four made foul shots by Duke guard Grayson Allen and a missed Newman three, Duke had the ball up 72-69 entering the final minute. On that possession, Kansas big man Silvio de Sousa came up with a big defensive play, forcing Duke forward Wendell Carter Jr into missing a lay-up, and then grabbing the defensive board. Jayhawk guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk then, after missing two straight wide open threes with 3:07 left, hit a game tying three from the right wing with 27 seconds to play. He said, “I was thinking about passing it to the corner, but I think it was Wendell just gapped it, so I just shot the ball and it went in.”  

 

Krzyzewski elected not to take a timeout on the ensuing possession, and Allen ran the clock down before taking a step back 10-footer from the left side of the lane in the final seconds, that shot circled the rim twice before falling out, and the game was headed overtime tied at 72. Allen said of his shot, “It came really close to going in and it didn’t. You know, I was trying to drive right, he cut me off, went back left, and their big stepped up to help. And I had to get a shot up over him and tried to bank it in and it was right there, rolled out.” 

 

In the extra 5-minute session, Duke jumped out to a 74-72 lead on Trevon Duval’s layup on ovetime’s first possession. Newman then nailed a three before Bagley made a layup, and the KU guard split two foul shots. After that sequence, Duval made a jumper, and Newman hit two foul shots to tie it a 78 with 2:18 to go in OT. The Jayhawks then took the lead for good when Newman hit another three, this time from the left corner off a beautiful feed from Lagerald Vick. Allen then missed two straight Duke threes, and Kansas held on for an epic 85-81 win in overtime. Krzyzewski said afterward, “it was an honor to play in this game.” 

 

Malik Newman’s performance should be remembered for a long time in Lawrence.  He scored all 13 Jayhawk points in overtime and had a career high 32 points in the regional final. “He made a lot of tough shots a lot of timely shots for them. A lot them — obviously the game was close the whole game — but a lot of them it just felt like, right when we felt like we were about to get a run he hit one”,Allen said of Newman’s performance. Mykhailiuk also pitched in an 11 point 10 rebound double double for Kansas. Duval paced Duke with 20 points, and Bagley snatched 10 rebounds. Kansas, a bad rebounding team coming in, won the battle of the boards against Duke, one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, 47-32. KU shot 43.5% from the field and 36.1% from deep as Duke shot 42.9% from the floor, and 24.1% from beyond the arc.  

 

The win sent Kansas to its first Final Four since 2012, and back to San Antonio, the city where Kansas and head coach Bill Self won its latest national title in 2008. That was an overtime thriller against Memphis in the title game. With the loss the Blue Devils end a successful season on a disappointing note. Duke will lose Allen to graduation, and Bagley will certainly be a lottery pick in June’s NBA draft.  

 

Self said, “That was an epic game that — one of the best ones if not the best I’ve ever been a part of.” 

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