Malik Newman talks about KU’s win over Duke
He strutted across the center-court logo and assertively pointed his right index finger toward the floor, a man putting his proverbial stake into the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
“I’m here!” Kansas guard Malik Newman shouted. “I’m here!”
This was the overtime of the Elite Eight on Sunday, a matchup between two of the most storied programs in college basketball, a game that KU players had said they so desperately wanted to win to send their senior leader to a Final Four.
But in this moment, it wasn’t about Duke or Kansas. It wasn’t about Devonte’ Graham. And it wasn’t even about the best game this year’s NCAA Tournament has offered.
To the forefront instead was a player willing his team to a Final Four in San Antonio, the alpha dog of an 85-81 KU victory.
“Call him Mr. March,” senior Devonte’ Graham said.
If this is Newman’s lone playing season for KU — if the NBA dreams he pursued in the past come to fruition in June — he put a stamp on the season's best accomplishment.
Newman scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in overtime, seven from the free-throw line and the remainder on a pair of three-pointers. He finished a game-best 32 points, despite missing his first five shots. Afterward, he was named the most outstanding player of the Midwest Regional, two weeks after after earning the same honors at the Big 12 tournament.
“I just got hot, started hitting shots,” he said. “My teammates kept finding me open.”
It was just two months ago that Newman said he felt out of sorts. The shots weren’t falling, and the rest of the box score wasn’t exactly complimenting his game, either. In a midseason meeting, KU coach Bill Self told Newman he needed more production — that if the Jayhawks were going to make a run, Newman needed to be a bigger part of the solution.
He found himself in the spotlight Sunday.
It fit him well.
Duke struck first in overtime, but Newman found the spot he was most comfortable in Omaha — behind the three-point arc, buried in the left corner. He made three three-pointers from that spot between the second half and overtime. He had five threes in the game.
“Early in the season, I was just thinking too much,” Newman said. “I wasn’t going out there and just playing. Now, I’m just playing.”
That’s half the story.
Half his production Sunday.
Newman drew a defensive assignment that matched him with Duke senior Grayson Allen most of the game. On a night in which he scored 32 points, Newman drew equal praise for his defense.
After the game, Newman, Graham and senior Svi Mykhailiuk stood in the locker room, each of them wearing Final Four hats and holding box scores in their hands.
One line read: Grayson Allen, 3 for 13, 12 points.
“They told me I can’t play defense,” Newman said. “What are they talking about?”
It loomed most significant on the last sequence of regulation, a tie game and the ball in Allen’s hands for the final shot. Newman forced Allen left, then compelled him to take an off-balanced shot. The ball hit the backboard and spun on the back of the rim before falling out.
“Malik defended it perfectly,” Self said. “They put the ball in his hands late to go make some plays, and Malik defended it perfectly. And I think that stop did give us some confidence — no question, going into overtime.”
He helped send the game to overtime, and then he thrived once there. After the game’s final seconds ticked off, Newman embraced Graham and Mykhailiuk, the team’s two senior starters.
They were part of each of the past two KU runs, which stopped in the Elite Eight. This one marches on.
“I mean that’s basically what we was playing for— to help these guys get over that hump,” Newman said. “I’m just glad that I was able to contribute in a good way to help these guys.”