LAWRENCE, Kan. — The setting, Madison Square Garden, seemed appropriate enough for Bill Self to propose his Kansas point guard attract more attention from NBA scouts.
Senior Frank Mason just sank a winning pull-up jumper in the final seconds to defeat top-rated Duke in the Champions Classic, a victory that evened the No. 7 Jayhawks at 1-1 after opening with an overtime loss to Indiana in the Armed Forces Classic.
Mason was brilliant in both games. Enough that Self knew to put the ball in Mason’s hands and let him take the shot that kept the Blue Devils’ matchup from also going into overtime.
"I think the NBA’s missing the boat on him," Self said. "He doesn’t fit the eye test with length and standing (5-foot-11) and that kind of stuff, but he’s got some things you can’t teach and intangibles that are as good as anybody in America probably possesses."
After netting a career-high 30 points in the Indiana defeat, Mason led Kansas with 21 points and five assists against Duke. The third-year starter has already gained the distinction as the Jayhawks’ go-to man entering their home opener Friday against Siena (1-1).
By at least gaining a split of a season-opening salvo in which Kansas flew over the Pacific and also played near the Atlantic to confront two bluebloods of their ilk , the Jayhawks realized their potential as Big 12 favorites expected to vie for a Final Four berth.
"It will do something for us, because, for the first time, we won a game when we shot it like (garbage)," Self said. He also noted that Duke did not "get transition points and we controlled the glass. It’s not that complicated."
Certainly not if Mason continues a furious pace that finds him averaging 25.5 points, 7.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds over 37.5 minutes. This, despite sitting out some of the first half against Duke because of foul trouble.
Freshmen also flashed more of their skills in the Duke win. Josh Jackson, a 6-8 guard rated by some services as the top recruit in this year’s class, added 15 points. Udoka Azubuike, a 7-foot, 280-pound man-child from Nigeria, grabbed 12 rebounds.
"We’re not a great rebounding team by any stretch," Self said, "and he gets 12 in 15 minutes and our other bigs get seven in 30. As he gets more comfortable, I certainly see his minutes going up. He’s going to be as important as anybody on our team in how good we can be."
The Jayhawks have won 42 straight home openers. The game against Siena is officially part of the CBE Classic, which will find Kansas moving on to Kansas City, Mo., for a Nov. 21 game against UAB. Also that night, George Washington faces Georgia. The four-team bracket concludes Nov. 22.
Siena was edged 77-75 by George Washington, the reigning NIT champion, on Nov. 15.
The Saints had a chance to win at the buzzer, but sophomore guard Nico Clareth missed a 3-pointer. The loss began a stretch of four road games in eight days.
"It’s a lot of travel and a lot of games," said Siena senior forward Brett Bisping, who averages a double-double (14.0 points, 10.5 rebounds). "But it’s early in the season, so we’re not really worn down yet. I think we’ll be ready to go."
The Saints were picked second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (behind Monmouth) after returning their five top scorers off last year’s 21-13 squad.
Marquis Wright, a 6-1 senior guard, leads Siena with a 26-point average after matching his career-best with 31 points against Cornell in the season opener.
"I hope some of the younger guys see what Marquis does," Siena coach Jimmy Patsos said. "He’s fiery. He keeps taking the big shot. But he plays defense, then he hustles, he comes over and he listens to me. He’s a complete player."