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Kansas 66, Providence 61

Providence run comes to an end in Sweet 16 loss to Kansas in men’s NCAA Tournament

Providence coach Ed Cooley consoled leading scorer Al Durham after the loss to Kansas.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

CHICAGO — The Providence Friars relish close games because all season they’ve thrived when the margin is tight. Some call it luck. They believe it’s skill. And here in the Sweet 16, they turned a lopsided start against Kansas into one of those nail-biting finishes.

But as the final minutes ticked off the clock at the United Center, the Friars had too much to overcome and not enough time to rally against the Jayhawks, who had already generated a crucial late burst on their way to a 66-61 victory.

With both teams struggling offensively, the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks survived the Friars’ comeback attempt and advanced to the Elite Eight, where they will meet the winner of No. 10 Miami and No. 11 Iowa State. As college basketball fans focus on Mike Krzyzewski’s final postseason, top-seeded Gonzaga’s unsuccessful run toward redemption and the miracle Elite Eight berth for Saint Peter’s, this Kansas team has quietly become the lone No. 1 seed remaining.

Despite dreadful shooting in the first half and Kansas’s 13-point lead with less than 15 minutes to go, Providence had managed to push ahead when Noah Horchler made a layup with 5:49 remaining. The Jayhawks responded with a 7-0 burst, and in the final minutes, Providence cut the lead to 4 points multiple times but could never climb closer.


‘’I saw how excited they were getting,’’ Kansas forward Jalen Wilson said. ‘’They started to talk a little bit. I’m so confident in me and my team that I know that fuels us just as much. And plus, we never get rattled.’’

Horchler missed a 3-pointer that could have trimmed Providence’s deficit to 2 with 28 seconds to go. From there, the fourth-seeded Friars relied on fouling between a few successful possessions. They held on to a sliver of hope that faded as Kansas delivered at the free throw line.


The Jayhawks have a veteran-laden rotation, and after a sloppy start for both teams, Remy Martin provided a spark off the bench. He hit a wide-open three during an early stretch when he scored 7 straight points and gave Kansas its first glimpse of separation. Through the first 12 minutes, Martin outscored Providence on his own.

Martin, who played the past four seasons at Arizona State, had spent nearly a month this season on the bench while dealing with a bone bruise in his knee. Until the postseason, he hadn’t scored in double digits since December. But now he’s healthy and surging, resembling the version of himself who averaged nearly 20 points in the previous two seasons.

‘’He’s playing with so much confidence, and we love it,’’ Wilson said.

The Jayhawks shot only 39.3 percent from the field, but Martin scored 23 points to lead Kansas to continue his strong run. He scored 20 points in the Jayhawks’ previous game, and he’s now had five straight games in double figures.

Providence’s offense had a standout showing in its previous matchup, but against Kansas, the Friars stumbled early, missing their first 11 attempts from 3-point range, including a few that were way off the mark. The Friars trailed just, 26-17, at halftime, a generous margin given their trouble and a sign of Kansas’s own shooting trouble.

‘’We played really well defensively and rebounded the ball in the first half,’’ Kansas coach Bill Self said. ‘’Didn’t have as much to show for it considering Providence couldn’t make a shot, which we really couldn’t either.’’


Kansas guard Ochai Agbaji, a national player of the year finalist, scored just 5 points on 2-for-8 shooting, but he had a highlight-reel lob dunk with 2:57 remaining that extended the lead to 7.

The Jayhawks have NBA prospects in Agbaji and Christian Braun, along with plenty of teammates who were once highly touted recruits. They were expected to make it here. This is Kansas, a No. 1 seed and perennial title contender. And then there’s Providence, a program that hadn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 1997. The Jayhawks made it at least that far in the tournament 13 times during the Friars’ drought.

Coach Ed Cooley, who speaks about Providence College and the Big East with adoration, never grew tired of speaking about the cloud of doubt following his team. He instead embraced it.

‘’I thought we played our hardest right to the end,’’ Cooley said. ‘’I thought we responded. And I couldn’t be more proud.’’