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NCAA Tournament: Defending national champion Kansas loses to Arkansas in the second round

Kansas’ national title defense ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday when Arkansas’ Ricky Council IV made five free throws in the final seconds and the eighth-seeded Razorbacks beat the top-seeded Jayhawks. series, 72-71.

Davonte Davis scored 25 points and Council chipped in 21 as Arkansas rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit. Kansas, playing without coach Bill Self, became the second top seed not to escape the opening weekend of the tournament after Purdue lost Friday night to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson.

Arkansas (22-13) and coach Eric Musselman return to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. The Razorbacks will play either Saint Mary’s or Connecticut in the West Region semifinals on Thursday in Las Vegas.

Musselman and his players ran to a group of fans seated fieldside after the final buzzer. The 58-year-old coach tore off his polo shirt, waved it over his head and whooped with joy.

Self has been with the Jayhawks (28-8) since they arrived in Des Moines and has attended practices and meetings but still doesn’t feel well enough to coach for a game after undergoing a heart procedure March 8 to clear clogged arteries

Longtime assistant Norm Roberts was interim coach for the fifth straight game in Self’s absence.

Kansas acting coach Norm Roberts, filling in for an ailing Bill Self, leads his team through the first half.

(Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Kansas, seeking to become the first repeat national champion since Florida in 2006-07, led 35-27 at halftime and lost for the first time in 27 games entering the second half with a lead. The Jayhawks were 47-0 in the NCAA tournament when leading by eight points or more at the half.

Davis scored 21 of his points in the second half. He fouled out with 1:56 left, handing things over to veteran Consejo, a transfer from Wichita State who scored nine of the Razorbacks’ last 11 points.

Council’s free throw put Arkansas ahead to stay, 68-67, with 24 seconds remaining. He then recovered his own missed second free throw and made two more free throws to give the Razorbacks a three-point lead.

Davonte Davis of Arkansas outpoints Kevin McCullar Jr. of Kansas in the NCAA tournament on March 18, 2023.

Arkansas’ Davonte Davis, who scored 25 points before fouling out, beats Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr..

(Morry Gash/Associated Press)

The teams traded free throws, and Arkansas sent Kansas’ Jalen Wilson to the line with three seconds remaining to prevent a potential tying 3-pointer. Wilson hit the first free throw and appeared to intentionally try to miss the second, but he hit the glass hard and Kansas never regained possession.

Wilson led the Jayhawks with 20 points.

Arkansas was playing a No. 1 seed for the third year in a row. Last year, the Razorbacks knocked out Gonzaga en route to their second straight Elite Eight.

Arkansas, who beat Illinois in the first round, was considered a scary matchup for the Jayhawks with their explosive transition game and ability to play defense.

But the circumstances were less than ideal for the Razorbacks. Guard Anthony Black pinched a nagging ankle injury early and went to the dugout for bandages and shoes, and fellow shooting guard and high projected first-round NBA draft pick Nick Smith Jr. he made two quick fouls and was limited to 10 minutes and no points in the first half. Also, big man Kamani Johnson was ill and was playing with a sore toe.

The Razorbacks were too eager to hit 3-pointers early. They missed eight of nine in the first half and couldn’t get their running game going.

Kansas seemed to be in complete control from the start. The Jayhawks roused their fans from their seats with a series of electric plays that included Gradey Dick’s dunk on Dajuan Harris’ fast-break steal, Wilson’s contested inside basket on a one-and-one, and his primal yell directed at the Jayhawks fans. Arkansas, and Joseph Yesufu. logo high arc three point shot to beat the shot clock.