Lubbock, Texas You wouldn’t be able to judge by his expression that Kansas University junior guard Frank Mason III played one strong half and one so-so one. The face never changes, answering that question requires looking elsewhere.
Here’s a clue: Kansas defeated Texas Tech, 69-59, Saturday night in a game it led by just two points at the break.
On a night backcourt mate Devonté Graham didn’t lend nearly as much help as usual and the team had nine turnovers heading into halftime, Mason was going to have to be better in the second half than the first or he was going to be in serious danger of doing something he very much hates to do: Let his team lose.
Images from Saturday night's game between the Jayhawks and Red Raiders at United Spirit Arena in Lubbock.
Mason had plenty of company in improved second-half play, and when all the numbers were totaled he somehow had compiled a double-double, totaling 17 points and 10 rebounds. He had five assists and two turnovers. The rest of the team had eight assists and 13 turnovers.
On a night Texas Tech made just 9 of 19 free throws, Mason made 8 of 8. He also made 3 of 6 three-pointers, but it was the when more than the how many that carried more meaning.
Tech had used a 9-0 run to tie the score, 44-44, with 10:23 left in the game. A Landen Lucas bucket and three-pointers from Mason and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk quickly gave KU an eight-point cushion. But with the a crowd of 14,231 infusing the Red Raiders hard all night, the home team wasn’t done making the nation’s No. 1 team sweat.
Sophomore center Norense Odiase, who scored all 14 of his points in the second half, pulled Tech within 52-50 with a dunk at the 6:13 mark. A Selden dunk and Mason three later, the lead was back to seven points with 5:03 left. Mason sealed it with a pair of free throws with 28 seconds left, the game’s final points.
“At the end of the game is when it matters most,” Mason said. “You have to be mentally strong to lock in and get the job done.”
Mason played 53 minutes Monday night in the triple-overtime victory against Oklahoma, but said the length and intensity of the game didn’t play a part in KU shooting so poorly in the first half.
“None of the guys were still nicked up from the last game or anything,” he said. “The day or two after we were pretty sore and got in an ice tub. As of now, everyone’s good and ready for Tuesday.”
After Saturday’s victory, Self again praised the job Mason did in the second half and overtime guarding Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield and said Mason was “unbelievable from an energy standpoint,” that night. He also shared where he would like to see improvement from him.
“I think he’s been OK by Frank’s standards,” Self said. “I don’t think he’s been anything like what Wayne has been from a consistency standpoint. ... He hasn’t been engaged as much offensively of late, in my opinion.”
Even on nights he’s not breaking down defenses as well as most nights, he’s one of those basketball players you want on your side when things get a little tense. Pressure seems to make him even better.
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