New York, NY – Kansas had faltered late in its opening game of the season against Indiana en route to an overtime loss, and things were heading in the same disappointing direction for the Jayhawks as the final minutes of their showdown with Duke played out in the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
With both teams’ rosters chocked full of high-profile freshmen, it was Kansas senior guard Frank Mason who rose up to knock down a contested left elbow jump shot with 1.8 seconds on the clock to lift the Jayhawks to a 77-75 victory.
“The play (out of a timeout) was to isolate me and my teammates did a good job spreading the court,” said Mason. “I was concerned a little about my balance, but the ball felt good leaving my hand.” “That was quite a play we called,” joked Kansas Coach Bill Self. “”Give the ball to Frank and get out of his way.”
A Mason lay-up increased Kansas’ lead to 62-50 midway through the second half. But rallying behind sophomore guard Luke Kennard, Duke cut into the Kansas lead and when Duke freshman guard Frank Jackson connected on a wing three-point jump shot, the score was tied at 75 with less than ten seconds to play. Mason’s mid-range jump shot gave the Jayhawks their margin of victory much to the delight of a large contingent of Kansas fans who converged on New York for the game.
Entering the season as a two-year returning starter, Mason averaged over 12 points per game his last two seasons as a starter and erupted for 30 points in Kansas’ opening game loss to Indiana. He scores from all three levels, but did most of his work against Duke in the mid-range and at the rim.
As the Jayhawks’ primary offensive facilitator, Mason uses a quick first step to create space for mid-range jump shots in both directions. He uses the same quickness to collapse the defense and either score in the paint or find open teammates for scoring opportunities. Mason’s five assists led the Jayhawks and came on the heels of a nine-assist game against Indiana.
Asked about the huge numbers he put up against Indiana and his game-winning shot against Duke, Mason seemed to take it all in stride. “I still think I can play a lot better,” he said. “It’s not all about me.”
The Duke-Kansas match-up promised to showcase some of the best incoming freshmen in the country in Duke’s foursome of Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden along with Kansas’ Josh Jackson and Udoka Azubuike. All six players were in the building on Tuesday night, but Tatum, Giles and Bolden spent the night at the end of the Duke bench dressed in suits waiting for preseason injuries to heal.
Frank Jackson stepped up big for Duke hitting that late three-point shot to knot the score at 75 and Azubuike battled Duke senior Amile Jefferson in collecting a game high 12 rebounds, but it was Josh Jackson who turned in the most impressive performance among the game’s freshmen.
A long, wiry, 6-8 wing with a body similar to recent Kansas player Kelly Oubre, Jr. now playing with the Washington Wizards, Jackson impacts the game with his quickness, length and instincts to score. He displayed his body control driving to the ball to the rim and frustrating a shot blocker by finishing on the other side of the rim. He intercepted a pass in the Duke forecourt, outraced Duke defenders to the Kansas basket and threw down a one-hand dunk.
A right hand dominant player, Jackson also puts the ball on the deck with his left hand, passes off his left hand dribble and scores at the rim with his left hand. A native of Michigan, Jackson connected on one of two shots from distance, a good-looking pull-up jumper going to his left. He also showed an ability in the screen-and-roll game popping out of a pick and connecting on a long two-point jump shot.
“Josh was great,” said Self. “He was the best player in the game at the start of the second half.” Foul trouble limited Jackson all game and he had only 18 minutes on his line score when he fouled out. Jackson was called for a technical foul when he batted a ball out of frustration accounting for one of his fouls. “He has to learn to be able to contain his emotions better,” said Self. “But he’s one heck of a talent.”
Kennard, a 6-6 sophomore shooting guard, led Duke with 22 points and five assists and spearheaded the Blue Devils’ comeback effort. A left handed shooter known for his sweet stoke, Kennard displayed a more expanded offensive skill set than the one he showed in two Duke victories in Madison Square Garden last season.
Driving the ball to score and pass, Kennard played a highly efficient game in needing only ten shots to score his 22 points. He connected on seven of his ten field goal attempts including 2-of- 4 from behind the three point arc. A 90 percent marksman from the free throw line his freshman season, Kennard made all six of his free throws against Kansas.
“Luke had a really good game and has played well in every one of our practices,” said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Asked if Kennard’s play exceeded the expectations he had for him, Krzyzewski added, “I wouldn’t say he overachieved because I think he’s a big-time player.”
Kennard stepped into a role played mostly last season by Duke guard Grayson Allen, who turned down what most observers thought was a certain first round opportunity in the NBA draft to return to Duke for his junior season. Playing against VCU and Georgetown in a Madison Square Garden tournament last November, Allen earned MVP recognition with two fantastic games scoring from all three levels at a highly efficient clip in leading the Blue Devils to the tournament championship.
But Allen struggled to connect on his early jump shots against Kansas, injured his right leg in a late first half fall and never seemed to get into any kind of positive rhythm. He finished with 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting including a 1-for-7 mark from distance.
“Grayson had a frustrating game,” said Krzyzewski. “He’s playing hard when he gets the ball; he has to play hard when he doesn’t have the ball. A couple of our veterans didn’t have a good game for us.”
Clearly without Tatum, Giles and Bolden, Duke played shorthanded and figures to give opponents a much different look when the three freshmen exchange their suits for Duke uniforms. “We aren’t who we imagined ourselves to be. That’s not an excuse; that’s just the way it is,” said Krzyzewski. “But we didn’t lose because we were shorthanded.” “Mason made a big-time play,” continued Krzyzewski. “It was a well-guarded shot. I’m big on strong faces and he gives the face of a great leader. I told him in the post game line ‘big shot by a big-time player.'”
This article was written by Tom Osowski, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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