Opening Act: Mason, Lucas lift Jayhawks to 86-80 win in Big 12 opener

Kansas guard Frank Mason III (0) elevates to the bucket past TCU guard Desmond Bane (1) during the second half, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 at Schollmaier Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

— Because he plays with such tenacity and never shies away from attacking the rim, it may have been hard to spot.

But Kansas senior Frank Mason III flipped a switch a few minutes into Friday’s 86-80 victory over TCU that may have saved the Jayhawks.

After watching his team miss eight of its first nine shots inside TCU’s jam-packed Schollmaier Arena, Mason stopped reacting and started creating, often lowering his head near mid-court and driving to the rim no matter who or what stood in his way.

It didn’t always result in a basket. At least not right away. But it did change the way the Jayhawks played, transforming the nation’s third-ranked team from a flat, passive, holiday grinch into one of those friends that everyone has on New Year’s Eve — eager, excited and nearly impossible to stop.

“It was big,” said KU senior Landen Lucas of Mason’s impact early. “He’s been that guy for us the last couple years. He gives us kind of someone to look to. To have somebody who can just get a good shot. For him, some of those shots that might look tough are actually pretty good and that’s big for us.”

For the game, Mason finished — yet again — with a team-high 22 points, seven assists and two steals in 35 minutes.

As much as that pleased KU coach Bill Self, the Jayhawks’ leader was far more concerned about his team’s poor defensive play — even singling out poor efforts by Mason and junior Devonte’ Graham — than he was impressed by its offensive production.

TCU shot 44 percent for the game, 39 percent from 3-point range, and featured a lineup full of players who got to the rim whenever they wanted throughout most of the night.

“We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can play that little and get by,” Self said. "We got lucky tonight.... The thing we’ve always hung our hat on, we’re just not very good at yet. And we’ve got to improve on that.”

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Box score: Kansas 86, TCU 80 ( .PDF )

As much as the Jayhawks left room to improve on defense, it did not really matter who was asked to deliver offensively in this one once the Jayhawks (12-1 overall, 1-0 Big 12) got going. And nearly every Jayhawk did at one point or another.

Kansas led 48-44 at the half and kept that margin for most of the second half. After occasionally pushing the lead to six or seven and seeing TCU trim it back to three or four, it seemed as if a different Jayhawk played the role of peace keeper each time.

First was Lucas, whose monster night of 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds, included a huge rebound of his own miss with just under six minutes to play that pushed the KU lead from 69-66 to 71-66.

A few minutes later, Carlton Bragg Jr., who played big on the boards but still looked off offensively, scored one of his two buckets on a strong left-handed finish to push KU’s lead from two possessions (78-72) to three with 3:23 to play.

Even at that, TCU never quit. After a couple of careless Kansas possessions, the Horned Frogs trimmed to the KU lead to 80-76 with just over 2:00 to play. But there, again, was another Jayhawk to stem the tide. This time it was Graham, whose driving bucket with the shot clock winding down kissed off the glass and in just as he hit the deck.

“We definitely need that moving forward, different guys stepping up,” Mason said. “That’ll be great for our team.”

Appropriately, Mason delivered the final blow, floating a soft runner toward the rim with 1:23 to play that pushed the Kansas lead back to eight.

Perhaps most impressive about this Kansas victory — its 26th consecutive win in a conference opener and ninth straight win over TCU — was the fact that the Jayhawks did nearly all of it without the services of their second-leading scorer.

Kansas freshman Josh Jackson struggled in the early going, turning it over in transition and misfiring on his first three shots, with none really even coming close despite Jackson attacking the rim as he has done so often early in games this season.

Jackson played just eight minutes in the first half and saw his frustrations carry over into the second half. After missing his first couple of shots after the break, Jackson was whistled for his third foul on an over-the-back call with 18:07 to play.

Self and Jackson erupted with disagreement and the KU freshman compounded the mistake by getting his fourth foul via technical.

Jackson played just 12 minutes and scored four points on 2-of-8 shooting.

It wasn’t just Jackson who struggled in the early going. The Jayhawks did not score until the 16:44 mark and trailed by 10 seven minutes into the game.

TCU, meanwhile, was red-hot in the early going, hitting eight of its first 14 shots, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range to build that double-digit lead.

The Jayhawks tied the game almost as quickly as the Horned Frogs (11-2) built the 10-point lead, ripping off a stretch of eight consecutive makes, the last coming on a sweet, step-back 3-pointer by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, to give Kansas its first lead of the game (29-28) with 7:24 to play in the first half.

“We knew we had to turn something around,” Lucas said. “I think we got some good momentum and we felt the momentum switch back to us and we knew that we were back in it and we just had to go from there.”

After Mykhailiuk’s three, the Jayhawks never trailed again on their way to a hard-fought, road win to open their chase toward a 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title.

“We can complain that we didn’t play very well,” Self said. “But there’s a reason why we didn’t. I think TCU’s good. They were quicker than us, played smarter than us and we made enough shots where our mistakes didn’t cost us.”

Kansas returns to the floor Tuesday, when Kansas State comes to Allen Fieldhouse for the first of two Sunflower State clashes this season. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m.

By the Numbers: Kansas 86, TCU 80.

By the Numbers: Kansas 86, TCU 80.

— See what people were saying about the game during KUsports.com's live coverage.


More news and notes from Kansas vs. TCU


Comments

Suzi Marshall

The team's FT percentage sky-rocked with Azubuike out and Jackson on the bench.

Jackson's game to commence the regular season was reminiscent to his pre-season start.

Bragg, with 9 rebounds in 16 minutes, played really well...except for some of his misses at the rim...and in ability to handle a pass to score. If Bragg continues to work hard and Lucas continues to play like they both did tonight Self may use less of the 4-guard offense, which would give him some great flexibility. Biggest concern was in the 46 minutes Lucas and Bragg play, they were called for 7 fouls.

6 months ago

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Jay Scott

Fun to see Texas lose too.....

6 months ago

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Brett McCabe

Frank was great, and the FT shooting was critical. Who'd have predicted that free-throws would be our strength going into tonight?

Josh will shake this off...he'll finish those plays more often than not. Really loved his effort in other aspects of the game when it was clearly not his night. That dunk...holy cow.

So much to like about this team. So fun to watch.

6 months ago

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Mike Riches

To win #13, I think it will be important to start 6-0 and end 4-0; those are the lighter parts of the conference schedule. The middle is killer with games @WVU, vs. Baylor, vs. ISU, @KSU, @Texas Tech, vs. WVU and vs. Baylor (throw a game at Rupp in there as well). That has to be as difficult of a stretch as anyone plays in the country. We may be favored in almost all of those games (maybe not 2-3 of them) but would anyone be shocked if we lost any of those individually? Personally, I'll predict we go 5-3 through that stretch, and if we take care of business before and after, we should be fine matching UCLA's record. And I'll predict the committee will put UCLA in our region in March, and of course it will be coincidental.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Bryce Landon

If last night was any indication of what's to come, I say Jamie Dixon will have TCU in contention for an NCAA Tournament spot by next season.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Jay Scott

The mock brackets for this year all have TCU in them.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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David Black

LaGerald Vick scores 17 points and he did not receive a single comment? I thought he turned KU around with his play.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Janet Olin

Agree. Also, Carlton played much better, which is encouraging.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Humpy Helsel

Clearly, with so many players in double figures, a bunch of guys contributed and we needed all of them. But who would have thought Landen Lucas could contribute a line like that? He actually contributed far beyond his line with hustle, grit, and staying out of foul trouble for the most part. My son and I yelled Landen's name out repeatedly last night while watching the game. Very unlikely he will soon duplicate that performance, but for one very cool night in Ft. Worth, Landen was The Man.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Chris Shaw

Fun Fact: With Mason's 22 career points he finishes 2016 with 1390 career points. He passed Marcus Morris (1371 career points), Adonis Jordan (1373 career points) and Richard Scott for 25th on the all time scoring list at Kansas. Next on the list is none other than the great Wilt Chamberlain with 1433 career points.

If Mason were to only score 241 more points on the season (he currently has 258 total points this season) and tie his total of last season with 489 points...he would wind up with 1631 career points. Good enough for 13th all-time and sandwiched between Mark Randall and Kevin Pritchard.

Personally, barring injury and a full compliment of games with a deep NCAA run...I think Mason has a shot at 1800 plus career total points and somewhere in the #6-#9 all time scoring list. David Robisch is #10 with 1754 career points followed by Paul Pierce with 1768 career points, followed by Perry Ellis with 1798 career points, followed by Keith Langford with 1812 career points and Darnell Valentine at #6 with 1821 career points. Mason IMO won't catch Sherron Collins at #5 with 1888 career points.

Observation: I know that Josh Jackson had a nice 4 game stretch before this TCU game but I don't understand why Self and Staff dont half post Jackson to find him some different looks and isolate his skill set so he can exploit that mid range game? It just doesn't make any sense to me.

Svi, Vick, and Jackson...who are bigger guards try to play like Graham and Mason as constant slashers. That's fine part of the time but why not expand on Jasckson's skill set and rare talent level to take advantage of some of these matchups. When Jackson was struggling slashing last night, isolate him in the half post and use him like Marcus Morris.

IMO Self has never completely fully exploited the talents of guys like Xavier Henry, Andrew Wiggins, and or Kelly Oubre. All those guys are 6'8 and Self always has them playing like they are 6'3" guards. Jackson included. What's Jackson's go to if his slashing is cut off? His hustle? His defensive prowess? His athleticism? Well, I saw what happened in 2014 when Andrew Wiggins disappeared and was a non factor in the third round (round of 32) against Stanford.

Get Jackson comfortable in other spots on the floor. We know he can drive and get to the basket. What happens when he's struggling and not making those runners?

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Steve Corder

1) The W @ TCU will loom large late in conference play. TCU will be a tough "win" @ home.
2) There were 4 players unafraid to take the shot: Mason, Graham, Svi, Vick in a tight game. Not many teams have 3 to 4 perimeter players, on the floor @ one time, unafraid to shoot in tight games.
3) Opposing coaches will (or already have) noticed that Jackson lacks confidence in his out side shot, especially in close games. Watch teams dare Jackson to shoot. It's easy to shoot well when the game is a run-a-way or in AFH.
4) A good game for Jackson: he is a tenacious competitor and was taught some valuable lessons @ TCU. Forget the line-score. He has the defense that Wiggins never displayed and thus won't "disappear" in games down the stretch.
5) As before, hold serve @ home & win at least half on road for #13, and let the others chew-up one another.
6) Self gives edge on bench.
7) Good start to the grind that lies ahead.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Barry Weiss

good points. It looked like coach got on Josh once last night for passing up an open 3. I think teams already have backed off him in an attempt to defend the drive. Same with Frank. That last shot before half, you could tell TCU knew the drill and expected his typical drive where he either goes up with it or dishes to a wing. In this case, he just popped the 3, granted it was a bit strong and he missed, but his driving tendencies, like Josh's, will open up 3 point jumpers.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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Harlan Hobbs

You are right, David, regarding LaGerald. He came up extremely big on the offensive end. We obviously needed every one of his points.

Have a great New Year everybody.

5 months, 4 weeks ago

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