LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Whether it was nifty moves near the basket or a jumper that fell right all night, Perry Ellis was determined to do whatever he could to push top-seeded Kansas a little bit deeper in the NCAA Tournament.
And thanks to teammates who followed the senior forward’s cool lead, the Jayhawks are one step closer to the Final Four.
Ellis scored 27 points to match a season high, Wayne Selden Jr. added 19 and Kansas topped No. 5-seed Maryland for a 79-63 South Region semifinal victory Thursday night. The win put the Jayhawks back into the Elite 8 for the first time since 2012, when they went on to reach the NCAA championship game before losing to Kentucky.
It took time for the Jayhawks (33-4) to get going. Once they finally seized the lead late in the first half everything else fell into place for their 17th straight victory. They emerged from the break by making their first six shots and steadily took control behind Ellis, who made 10 of 17 from the field.
“They just tell me to be more aggressive, and that’s what I try to do,” said Ellis, who also scored 27 against Oklahoma on Jan. 4.
Selden was right there with 7-of-16 shooting to help Kansas earn a berth in Saturday’s regional final against Villanova.
The Terrapins (27-9) dictated the early tempo and briefly engaged in a back-and-forth game with the Jayhawks before eventually falling behind the tournament favorite. Rasheed Sulaimon led Maryland with 18 points.
Landen Lucas added 14 points and 11 rebounds while Frank Mason III had 11 points for Kansas, which outworked Maryland 43-28 on the glass and outscored the taller Terps 40-28 in the paint.
Better shooting also helped the Jayhawks, who made 14 of 25 in the second half and finished 29 of 62 from the field (47 percent).
Kansas just had to take its time to slow down Maryland, which entered the game with every starter averaging at least 11 points per game. Its main focus was keeping Maryland guard Melo Trimble (17 points) from getting hot, a strategy that worked as the sophomore made just 5 of 16 from the field with one 3-pointer.
The Kansas defense kept other Maryland players from becoming factors on both ends as well and ended up holding the Terps to just 40 percent shooting including 35 percent after halftime. In fact, Kansas was so effective that Maryland made just 8 of 23 shots in the final 20 minutes.
“I thought we played just superb,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I thought (in) the second half, we defended, we rebounded.”
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon agreed and said, “they were just great on defense. We’re a good offensive team, we’re hard to guard, and they really locked in on us.”
Maryland dictated the early tempo before Kansas regrouped late in the first half to grab a 36-34 lead at the break.
Sulaimon got the Terps started with the first of two 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes to provide an 18-12 lead, significant considering they made just 1 of 18 from long range in their second-round win over Hawaii.
Kansas went 5 1/2 minutes without a field goal but didn’t flinch and eventually fought back to take its first lead at 27-26 on two Devonte’ Graham free throws with 5:33 remaining in the half. The teams then traded 6-2 runs with the Jayhawks making the last one for a slim edge, better than they could have expected after shooting 41 percent.
Ellis provided the steadying force with 12 points and added a couple more baskets during a 14-9 run for a 50-43 lead, a stretch in which the Jayhawks made their first six shots to start the second half.
Kansas was playing the way it wanted by that point and kept up the tempo in building a 16-point lead with four minutes left.
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