Winning conference games on the road can be difficult in college basketball without some veterans to lead the way. No. 3-ranked Kansas couldn’t have opened Big 12 play Friday night at TCU without seniors Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas.
With Mason running the offense and Lucas controlling the glass, Kansas held off a spirited group of Horned Frogs, 86-80, at Schollmaier Arena.
For the 10th time this season, Mason finished a game as KU’s leading scorer, this time putting up 22 points on 6-for-13 shooting, while dishing a team-leading seven assists, too.
View a gallery of images from Friday night's game between the Jayhawks and Horned Frogs in Fort Worth, Texas.
Lucas, meanwhile, accounted for a career-high 17 of the Jayhawks’ 39 rebounds in the victory, while producing a double-double, with 15 points.
Juniors Svi Mykhailiuk (12 points, 3-for-5 on 3-pointers) and Devonte’ Graham (11 points, six assists) provided Kansas (12-1 overall, 1-0 Big 12) with more than enough support to offset a 28-point performance from TCU forward Vlad Brodziansky in what played out as a tight game down the stretch, with Kansas hovering around a four-point advantage most of the second half.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: The Jayhawks worked their way out of an ugly early rut. Playing just their second road game of the season, the visitors missed their first seven field-goal attempts and trailed by double figures a little more than seven minutes in against the Horned Frogs (11-2, 0-1).
TCU led 17-7 before Kansas started to look comfortable and rattled off eight straight makes, cutting off the Frogs’ confidence before they had a chance to feel even better about their upset bid.
Senior big man Lucas used his trademark smarts and footwork to score a layup that began the run of offensive success with 12:11 left before halftime. Next came a 3-pointer from sophomore Lagerald Vick (17 points off the bench), followed by a Josh Jackson dunk, a Graham jumper, and back-to-back buckets for Vick — with four Mason free throws and no Kansas turnovers mixed in between.
When junior wing Mykhailiuk nailed a step-back 3-pointer in the left corner, KU took its first lead of the game, 29-28.
The run, of course, didn’t seal a win, but the Jayhawks didn’t allow a bad start to ruin their night. They led 48-44 at the half, thanks in large part to how they responded to some legit adversity, and set themselves up to open conference play with a victory.
• Offensive highlight: Early on, half-court sets weren’t giving Kansas much production. The Jayhawks were shooting 5-for-18 when KU used a baseline out-of-bounds play to get its easiest look of the opening 10 minutes.
Mason watched the action develop in front of him from his spot out of bounds before lofting a pass up high, above the rim, where Jackson quickly hammered it home, cutting TCU’s lead, which already had reached 10 points at one juncture, down to six.
It was the kind of slam that gives a team momentum and it keyed KU’s offensive recovery, which allowed the 12-time defending Big 12 champs to shoot 50 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes.
• Defensive highlight: He may not have blocked a single shot against TCU, but Lucas gave KU ideal defense in the paint and around the rim.
Back in the starting lineup, where he finished his junior season, Lucas altered shots inside, played smart defense to stay in the game and grabbed 10 defensive boards to help Kansas have a big interior presence, even without injured 7-foot freshman Udoka Azubuike.
• Key stat: Free throws. During their 12 non-conference games, the Jayhawks shot just 59.2 percent at the foul line, fueled by five sub-50 percent outings. But Kansas got the right guys to the charity stripe at TCU and shot 80 percent on free throws, led by Mason’s 9-for-10 night. As a team, KU went 20-for-25.
• Up next: The Jayhawks will be back in Allen Fieldhouse Tuesday for their first home game in more than three weeks. KU hasn’t played on campus since its Dec. 10 win over Nebraska, but will be back on James Naismith Court to face rival Kansas State.
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