NEW YORK — If you believe in conspiracy theories, you may subscribe to the belief that freemasons rule the country.
However, if you believe in the power of college basketball, you may find that it is Frank Mason who ruled the hardwood at Madison Square Garden.
The senior point guard provided one clutch moment after another for seventh-ranked Kansas, reaching a crescendo on a mid-range jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining to take down top-ranked Duke in a 77-75 thriller at the Champions Classic.
“The play was to iso me, and my teammates did a good job spacing the floor out,” said Mason; whose 21 points led the Jayhawks (1-1) to victory, of the background behind his heroic moment. “I just took advantage of the separation I created and shot the ball.”
“It felt good when it left my hand,” he added. “The only thing I was worried about was my balance. I was a little bit off balance.”
As a Tuesday night gave way to Wednesday morning, both teams were off kilter for stretches of a game that had a national championship-caliber intensity to it throughout the evening. Playing with only six men due to injuries that kept Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden out of the lineup, Duke (2-1) fed off their cohesiveness and a stout three-point defense to take a 34-29 lead at halftime. But Kansas responded with a 20-6 run shortly after the beginning of the final stanza to wrest control away from the Blue Devils, taking a 62-50 advantage with 8:03 to play in regulation and threatening to turn a titanic clash into an equally monumental rout.
Duke did not go quietly from there, however, ripping off a 9-3 run soon after that was capped by a three-pointer from Grayson Allen (12 points) and a four-point play from freshman Frank Jackson (11 points) to get within four with 2:59 on the clock. The deficit would increase to seven over the next several possessions before Duke countered with layups from Allen and Luke Kennard, whose 22 points topped all scorers. Following two missed shots by Mason, Kennard was able to corral the second one and feed Jackson for a game-tying triple on the left arc to knot the proceedings at 75 apiece with 16 seconds remaining.
“To our guys’ credit, I thought the last eight to ten minutes of the game, we played really well against a really good team,” said Mike Krzyzewski. “I think we learned a lot from the game. Both teams were in foul trouble and for us, we just don’t have the numbers when we get in foul trouble, but that’s the way it is. It really was a good learning experience for us.”
Using their final timeout on the game-winning possession, Kansas was able to advance the ball and put Mason in position for his theatrics from just off the left side of the foul line. Matt Jones’ desperation heave fell short at the buzzer on the ensuing trip down the floor, enabling the Jayhawks to escape New York with a victory over the No. 1 team in the nation.
“That was quite a play we called,” head coach Bill Self remarked of Mason’s game-winning jumper. “He’s made a lot of big plays for us. I don’t know if he’s made game-winners, but he’s certainly made a lot of plays. He’s a stud.”