OMAHA, Neb. — Duke and Kansas registered Sweet 16 wins to advance in the NCAA Tournament on Friday to set up a heavyweight Elite Eight battle between two of the nation’s top programs on Sunday.
The top-seeded Jayhawks secured their passage into the last eight with a very close 80-76 victory over fifth-seeded Clemson, while No. 2 seeded Blue Devils booked their Midwest Regional final place, with a workman-like 69-65 win over No. 11 seed Syracuse.
Malik Newman led Kansas (30-7) with 17 points on 6 of 11 shooting to go along with seven rebounds, while senior guard Devonte’ Graham, who went just 4 of 12 from the field, added 16 points, five rebounds and four assists.
There were also enjoying signs for coach Bill Self’s side, as big man Udoka Azubuike impressed in his first start of the tournament, notching a double-double with 14 points (7 of 9 shooting) and 11 rebounds to go with two blocks and played a tournament-high 25 minutes.
Lagerald Vick had 13 points and eight rebounds for the Jayhawks, who into halftime with a 40-27 lead but needed to hold on down the stretch.
Gabe DeVoe finished with a career-high 31 points for Clemson, which outscored Kansas 49-40 in the second half, but came up short at the end.
DeVoe also had nine rebounds and three steals in the defeat, while Marcquise Reed scored 13 points and Shelton Mitchell had 12 for the Tigers (25-10).
Clemson, which trailed Kansas by as many as 20 points early in the second half, shot 43 percent and went just 6 for 20 from 3-point range.
“We didn’t have our best game. Sometimes that’s not easy to keep fighting like that,” a defeated Clemson coach Brad Brownell said after the contest.
Meanwhile, in the night’s second Midwest Region semi-final game, second-seeded Duke used a balanced effort to dismiss fellow ACC rival Syracuse to progress to the Midwest Region final.
In a game that neither team led by double-digit, freshman sensation Marvin Bagley III had 22 points and seven rebounds to lead the way for Duke, which showed composure in the closing minutes of the game to advance to the Elite Eight.
Grayson Allen struggled shooting the ball from long-range, going just 3 for 14 from 3-pointers, but managed to contribute 15 points, including making clutch free throws down the stretch to help the Blue Devils (29-7) hold on.
Wendell Carter Jr. added a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Gary Trent Jr., who also made a pair of key free throws down the stretch, ended with 14 points and five rebounds for Duke, which went a dismal 5 for 26 from 3-point range and was held to less than 40-percent shooting (39.3) on the night.
Tyus Battle scored 19 points to lead Syracuse and Oshae Brissett added 15 points and seven rebounds for the Orange (23-14).