FORT WORTH, Texas – Remy Martin hadn't led Kansas in scoring all season coming into the NCAA Tournament.
The fifth-year senior transfer from Arizona State is 2 for 2 on the big stage.
Martin scored 20 points, Ochai Agbaji put the Jayhawks ahead for good with his first basket early in the second half, and Kansas held off Creighton 79-72 on Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16.
A sore knee had Martin in and out of the lineup before he missed almost a month during Big 12 play. His first two double-figure games since December came in the Big 12 Tournament, helping the Jayhawks (30-6) win that title.
Now he's led them to their 32nd Sweet 16. Kansas will face Providence, which advanced by beating Richmond, in the Midwest Region semifinals Friday in Chicago.
“With the guys and my family, the group, they’re a pretty tight-knit group,” Martin said. “They keep my confidence going. They keep my mental going. I always felt like I had something in me, but there’s nothing to it. I just keep it simple.”
The short-handed Bluejays (23-12) stayed close with an uncharacteristically hot showing from 3-point range. One of the worst teams in the country from beyond the arc, ninth-seeded Creighton went 12 of 28. Arthur Kaluma was 4 of 10 and scored 24 points.
The biggest 3 came from freshman Trey Alexander, who swished an off-balance heave from well behind the line as the shot clock was about to expire for a 73-70 deficit with 2:25 to go. Keyshawn Feazell's bucket soon after got Creighton within one.
The Bluejays had a chance to go ahead in the final minute, but Alexander's errant pass went off Alex O'Connell's hands. Agbaji scooped up the loose ball and took for a breakaway dunk, the last of his 13 second-half points.
Agbaji finished with 15 points, Christian Braun added 13 with a big 3 late in the second half and Jalen Wilson had 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Creighton, which reached the Sweet 16 last year, used just six players after losing 7-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner to a knee injury late in overtime of a 72-69 win over San Diego State on Thursday.
Point guard Ryan Nembhard, the Big East freshman of the year, was lost to wrist surgery late in the season, forcing the Bluejays to lean more on Alexander.
“Just to be resilient to come back and keep getting up every time you get knocked down, it’s just a silly little game, but I think it teaches you a lot about life in that regard,” senior Ryan Hawkins said. “I think this group’s got a lot of fire in them. I couldn’t be prouder of how we finished the season out.”
Hawkins drained a 3-pointer from well behind the arc 13 seconds into the game for Creighton and finished 3 of 6 from distance with 14 points. O’Connell was 3 of 8 and scored 16. Alexander finished with 14 points.
Martin, the 6-foot guard who scored 15 points in a blowout of Texas Southern in the opening round, had 16 in the first half off the bench. The Bluejays gave him room to shoot, and he went 2 of 4 from 3 and 6 of 9 overall before the break.
“You’ve got to have guys take some marginal shots and make them,” coach Bill Self said. “And Remy obviously took good shots, but you don’t expect a guy ... you don’t expect point guards to do that. But that kept us in the game. We’re a different team with him.”
Creighton: The Bluejays wouldn't go away in the second half despite having three players on the court the entire 40 minutes and another for 38. They struggled to get closer than six points before the surge that gave them a chance to pull the upset.
“It was a good chess match in that regard,” coach Greg McDermott said. “The only difference is (Self) had nine or 10 guys down there to choose from, and we had seven.”
Kansas: The go-ahead bucket by Agbaji early in the second half came after the Big 12 player of the year missed all four shots in the first half. He was 1 of 7 from the field when he soared for an offensive rebound and hit the putback. His only 3-pointer came later.
FIT TO BE TIED
Kansas tied Kentucky in all-time wins and 30-win seasons. Each program has 2,353 wins and 16 seasons with at 30 victories. The milestones came two days after Kentucky lost to Saint Peter’s 85-79 in overtime as the second seed in the East Region.
O'Connell and Kaluma connected on alley-oop dunks twice, with O'Connell feeding Kaluma both times. The first was late in the first half. The second came soon after halftime, and drew a smile from O'Connell as he glanced toward his teammate on their way to the other end of the court.