Stout second-half defense leads Kansas past Maryland

Whenever Maryland tried to make a run, Kansas had an answer. And more often than not, it was Jayhawks senior Perry Ellis who kept the Terps at arm’s length.

Ellis was virtually unstoppable for No. 1 seed Kansas, scoring a game-high 27 points in a 79-63 win to move the Jayhawks on to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2012. Ellis hit on 10 of his 17 shot attempts and was also a perfect 7-of-7 from the free throw line.

Ellis was joined in double figures by Wayne Selden Jr. (19 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), Landen Lucas (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Frank Mason III (11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) for the Jayhawks’ steady, yet unspectacular offense. But the offense wasn’t what allowed the Jayhawks to build an insurmountable second-half lead. It was defense.

The teams were evenly matched for most of the first half, with Kansas holding a 36-34 lead at the break despite a 4-for-18 shooting start. Both teams opened up the second half with scoring spurts, but Kansas was able to extend its lead to nine points just five minutes in. The fifth-seeded Terps twice cut the lead to six – once on a timely 3-pointer from Melo Trimble and another time on two Rasheed Sulaimon free throws with 12:08.

The Terps would never get that close again.

Over the next eight or so minutes, the Jayhawks upped the intensity defensively. That span included a Maryland scoring drought of 4:14 that expanded Kansas’ lead to 66-53. The Jayhawks cruised the rest of the way out as the Terps struggled to score inside and out.

With the Jayhawks crowding the lanes on drives, Maryland’s guards consistently settled for 3-pointers without much success. The Terps were a brutal 5-of-25 from distance, with Trimble (1-7) and Sulaimon (2-7) accounting for 14 of those attempts. Forward Jake Layman, a 40.7 percent 3-point shooter, also struggled, going 0-for-4.

Sulaimon led the Terps with 18 points, while Trimble added 17.

The inside game didn’t fare much better, especially with stud freshman big man Diamond Stone stuck on the bench with foul trouble. And with Stone, who scored only five points, on the bench for much of the second half, the Jayhawks dominated the boards by a huge 22-7 margin in the second half.

Now the Jayhawks, the tournament’s top overall seed, will face off with sharp-shooting Villanova in Saturday’s South Region final.

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!