Duke and Kansas played a Final Four game on Sunday. The loser won’t ever get to San Antonio, but two college basketball blue bloods contested what sure looked like a national semifinal in Omaha. It just happened to occur six days too soon.
In the end, it was won by Kansas, 85-81. It was also won by Malik Newman. The Mississippi State transfer scored 32 points, including all 13 of Kansas’ in a dramatic overtime period, to send the Jayhawks back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012.
It was, by many measures, the game of the tournament, and 40 minutes weren’t enough to decide it. Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk tied it at 72 with a 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining in regulation.
Grayson Allen very nearly won it at the buzzer, but saw his contested, off-balance jumper roll off the backboard, off the rim and out.
In overtime, Newman then took center stage. He drilled two 3s. He drained his free throws. And after five consecutive NCAA tournament failures as a top-two seed, Bill Self and Kansas are back where fans believe they belong.
For around 44 minutes, the game was as tight as could be. Duke led 36-33 at halftime. The biggest reason for its advantage was Trevon Duval. The freshman point guard had 13 points through 20 minutes, and closed the half with a quick four-point flurry.
Mike Krzyzewski and Bill Self played some chess throughout the evening. For much of it, their mini matches ended in stalemates. Both teams played tough defense. Both, though, had the talent to break tough defenses. Kansas ran some fantastic set plays, but turned the ball over 18 times in all.
Early in the second half, Newman began to step into his starring role. He hit two 3-pointers from the left corner to put the Jayhawks back on top. Bill Self appeared to have cracked Duke’s constantly morphing zone at halftime. His players got the ball to the middle of that zone with ease, and either scored there or passed out for open jumpers. The result was a 15-5 run to open the period, and a seven-point Kansas lead.
Krzyzewski, though, seemed to be tweaking the zone on the fly. There were often delays to Kansas’ adjustments. While they were being made, Duke got back into the game. The Blue Devils hit a couple of 3s of their own, got the ball to Marvin Bagley down low, and tied the game at 57 with nine minutes to go.
From there, the two hoops giants went back and forth. They traded spurts. Gary Trent Jr.’s deep 3 capped a rapid 7-0 Duke run that put the Blue Devils in front, 64-62.
But Newman answered with a triple at the other end out of a timeout.
In the final two minutes, Allen appeared to be coming through in the clutch for Duke. He drove on consecutive possessions, and got fouled on both. The first foul was on Udoka Azubuike, his fifth. Allen knocked down all four free throws to put Duke up three. But after Mykhailiuk drilled the game-tying shot, Duke’s senior couldn’t quite win the game at the buzzer.
In OT, Newman dueled with Marvin Bagley III and Trevon Duval. They traded buckets and free throws. With 1:51 left, Newman hit the second-biggest shot of the game, his second 3-pointer of the extra session. Trent was stuffed at the other end. One possession later, with 37 seconds remaining and Duke down three, Duval missed a wide open 3 from the corner. Kansas pulled away. Self defied the perhaps-unfair narrative of his March chokes. Duke’s season ended.
To say the national title will be played on Saturday would be disrespectful to Michigan and Loyola. But Villanova has looked like the best team in the field. And on Sunday, in a high-level battle between Nova’s toughest competition, Kansas proved it was worthy of a shot at the Wildcats.
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Villanova stakes claim to Final Four spot with dominant win
• Loyola Chicago saves bleak college hoops season with feel-good run
• Ranking each MLB Opening Day starting pitcher 1-30
• FSU’S Leonard Hamilton almost walks out of interview after question about tactics