TULSA, Okla. (AP) – In a bracket filled with upsets, top-seeded Kansas is jumping for joy.
Twin brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris combined for 41 points and 24 rebounds, powering Kansas past Illinois 73-59 on Sunday night to ensure the Jayhawks wouldn’t make an opening-weekend exit from the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
The Morris twins scored 24 of Kansas’ first 29 points in the second half, punctuated by consecutive two-handed slams by Markieff that made it 62-51 with 3:51 to play. After an Illinois turnover at the other end, the twins each followed Tyshawn Taylor in making leaping spins into teammates to start a timeout.
The Jayhawks (34-2) avoided revisiting their loss to another No. 9 seed, Northern Iowa, exactly a year earlier and also on Oklahoma soil. Instead, they’re moving on in a bracket filled with underdogs.
No. 11 seed VCU and 12th-seeded Richmond will join them in the Southwest regional semifinals in San Antonio. Kansas plays Richmond on Friday.
Mike Davis led the Fighting Illini (20-14) with 17 points and seven rebounds. Star point guard Demetri McCamey was hardly a factor, finishing with just six points and seven assists.
McCamey didn’t make his first basket of the second half until there was 2:15 left, after Markieff Morris followed his earlier throwdowns with another two-handed alley-oop slam that he had to reach down and retrieve before dunking to make it 66-51.
That completed a 10-0 surge that finally put away the Fighting Illini – hardly a small-time upstart with a senior-laden roster featuring pro prospects McCamey and Davis, who both put their names into the NBA draft before returning for one last season.
The Jayhawks had been down this road before, and never liked it much. Before Northern Iowa, they had another bad experience in Oklahoma City back in 1998, heading home early after a loss to eighth-seeded Rhode Island. Back in 1992, Kansas lost to No. 9 seed UTEP in Dayton, Ohio. All time, the Jayhawks were just 3-2 against No. 9 seeds in their second tournament game.
Stanford is the only other team that’s failed even twice to make it to the round of 16 as a top seed.
There’s nothing more to add to that dubious history now. Instead, coach Bill Self can celebrate a win against Bruce Weber, the man who replaced him as the Illini coach and once held a mock funeral to encourage everyone in Champaign to move on.
The Illini were within two after Mike Tisdale’s jumper to open the second half, and again after Davis’ hook shot a few moments later, but never could find out if the Jayhawks would get nervous if they got behind.
Markieff Morris ended up with 24 points and 12 rebounds and his brother had 17 points and 12 boards. Taylor, playing with his right middle finger taped to his ring finger, added 13 points.
D.J. Richardson scored 15 and Tisdale chipped in 13 points and 11 rebounds for Illinois.
Eager to avoid another early exit, Kansas raged out to an 18-6 advantage in the first 6 1/2 minutes. Markieff Morris nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving a confident nod of his head after it went through, and Tyrel Reed followed with his own 3. After a timeout, Elijah Johnson skied for a two-handed throwdown of Marcus Morris’ alley-oop pass and the Jayhawks were up by a dozen with 13:39 still left before halftime.
The Illini, retreating toward midcourt with the shot clock running out, got a lift when Brandon Paul’s 25-footer from the top of the key dropped in for 3 and eventually pulled back within 28-25 when Richardson finished off a 10-2 comeback with a 3-pointer from the right wing.
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