On this particular Kansas team, with its all killer/no filler six-man core, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the contributions of shooting guard Malik Newman, a relative newcomer who has yet to establish his exact role with the Jayhawks. Devonte’ Graham is the face of the team. Svi Mykhailiuk is the sharpshooter. Udoka Azubuike is the wrecking ball. But Newman, a sophomore transfer from Mississippi State, is just a guard who can score in bunches. And god, did he ever do that on Sunday.
Newman led all scorers with a career-high 32 points in Kansas’s 85-81 win over Duke in the Elite Eight, killing the Duke zone with the corner three while also hitting a clutch 11 of 12 attempts from the free throw line. While in the beginning of this, his debut season with Kansas, he was tremendously inconsistent—as likely to come up empty from the field as he was to drop 27—he’s evolved into a very scary presence, and the guy that will maybe hold the key to Kansas’s upcoming match-up with Villanova.
Newman can score in pretty much any possible way when Kansas has the ball, from driving the lane to pulling up in mid-range to draining outside shots. That’s been on full display these past few weeks, as Newman’s been averaging 22.7 points per game since the Big 12 Tournament began. As the pressure mounts, he’s only getting better. In overtime against the Blue Devils, when everyone else on the court seemed exhausted, Newman scored all of Kansas’s 13 overtime points, choking the life out of a Duke team that always seems to find a way to win these kinds of nail-biter games.
But none of that would have even happened if it weren’t for Newman’s play at the very end of regulation, which will go down as among the greatest five seconds of defense in NCAA Tournament history. With the game tied in the final ticks, Duke senior Grayson Allen went 1-on-1 against Newman from the top of the arc. According to their listed heights, the 6-foot-3 Newman was at a two-inch disadvantage against Allen, but the Kansas guard put on a masterclass in footwork, refusing to let Allen past him no matter how hard he tried, and forcing an off-balance, barely missed game-winning attempt.
Newman has done it all so far in this tournament, and he’ll be asked to do it again on Saturday when faced with an even more challenging Villanova opponent. While Kansas seniors Graham and Mykhailiuk have the most on their shoulders heading into the Final Four—and have earned the most attention from defenses for their efforts—it’s on Newman to exploit the space and opportunity created by his teammates’ talents. He’s thrived under pressure so far, but it only gets harder from here.