Leonard concluded the run by making three free throws to give UC Irvine a 59-51 lead with six minutes, three seconds to play in the South Region game at San Jose.
UC Irvine would lead by at least five points until the Wildcats cut the lead to 63-61 with 3:15 left as Barry Brown Jr. sank a 3-point basket and Kamau Stokes made a jump shot.
The Anteaters regained a five-point lead on Max Hazzard’s 3-point basket with 1:26 to play. Kansas State pulled back within two on Cartier Diarra’s 3-point basket with 1:03 remaining, but the Wildcats never scored again.
Kansas State missed a chance to at least tie the score when UC Irvine guard Robert Cartwright missed a layup, the Wildcats grabbed the rebound, but Brown threw the ball out of bounds.
Leonard made two free throws with 16 seconds remaining, Brown missed a 3-point shot with seven seconds to play. Leonard came down with the rebound, was fouled and made two free throws for the game’s final points.
Leonard and Hazzard each scored 19 points as UC Irvine extended its school-record winning streak to 17 games and improved to 31-5, increasing its school record for victories in a season.
Stokes had 18 for Kansas State (25-9).
The Anteaters were the lowest-seeded team to win in the first round of the 2019 tournament. They will next play Sunday, facing 12th-seeded Oregon, which upset fifth-seeded Wisconsin, 72-54, later Friday.
UC Irvine was a 4 1/2-point underdog. The ABC News-owned data prediction website FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Anteaters a 23 percent chance of winning. Among participants in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, 21.4 percent picked UC Irvine to win.
Former President Barack Obama was the highest-profile person to predict a victory by the Anteaters.
The No. 13 seed is 29-111 in the first round since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
The game was UC Irvine’s second in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. Its other was in 2015 when it was the 13th seed in the East Regional and lost to fourth-seeded Louisville, 57-55, in a game the Anteaters led in the final minute.
UC Irvine opened in 1965 and began competing on the Division I level in 1977. It twice qualified for the Division II tournament.
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