One of the biggest knocks on Kansas heading into the NCAA Tournament was that it didn’t have a true go-to guy.
Basketball’s royalty included Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and North Carolina’s Brice Johnson.
But when KU needed a basket — and when the going got tough — would the Jayhawks have someone they could turn to?
On Thursday the answer was a definitive yes, as forward Perry Ellis followed three years of postseason frustrations with his most memorable night as a Jayhawk in KU’s 79-63 victory over fifth-seeded Maryland in the Sweet 16 at the KFC Yum Center.
The senior finished with 27 points, but he also was best when KU needed him most.
To start the second half, he carved up Maryland’s athletic front line with a barrage of mid-range jumpers, spinning layups and shoulder-down moves that resulted in fouls.
Ellis scored 13 points in the first nine minutes after the break while making all five of his field-goal attempts in that time. During the stretch, KU moved from a two-point halftime lead to an 11-point advantage, all but stamping its place in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2012.
KU, which won its 17th straight game, will face second-seeded Villanova on Saturday with a berth to the Final Four on the line. The Jayhawks advanced to their 21st Elite Eight and sixth under Self, with the coach improving to 6-2 at KU in Sweet 16 games.
KU also was helped by a tried-and-true formula, one forward Landen Lucas has repeated it constantly in the locker room over the past few weeks.
Early defense for the Jayhawks is critical, Lucas says, keeping the team in games until it can find its footing on the other end. The hope is KU can at some point feel their way offensively, and a quick run can be enough to take control of a game.
Though the top-seeded Jayhawks pulled away in the second half, the first half was just as vital.
During one stretch, the Jayhawks missed nine shots in a row, going more than five minutes without a point.
And at the end of it, KU trailed just 14-10, the Jayhawks locking down defensively to keep the boat from sinking altogether.
Self improved to 7-0 against former KU player and current Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, who lost all of his previous matchups against Self while at Texas A&M from 2008-11.
Ellis made 10 of 17 shots and also topped his NCAA Tournament high of 21 that he had against both Austin Peay and Connecticut this season.
Wayne Selden added 19 points on 7-for-16 shooting, with 10 of those coming in the second half. Lucas added 11 points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes.
Maryland (27-9) made 8 of 23 second-half shots (35 percent).
KU (33-4) played without guard Brannen Greene, who sat out with back spasms.
Jesse Newell: @jessenewell