Kansas senior Frank Mason’s clutch 16 of 18 free-throw shooting performance certainly proved instrumental in the Jayhawks’ 84-80 overtime victory over West Virginia on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
His 16 makes — most by a Jayhawk since Wayne Simien swished 18 against UAB on March 26, 2004, in the NCAA Tournament — were quite remarkable considering the tosses seemingly came out of nowhere.
“The last time we played West Virginia, he didn’t shoot a free throw. He never got to the line,” KU coach Bill Self said Tuesday on his weekly Hawk Talk radio show.
Indeed, the 5-foot-11 Mason scored 15 points but attempted no free throws in KU’s 85-69 loss to the Mountaineers on Jan. 24 in Morgantown, W. Va.
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“He’s shot by far the most in our league over everybody (131 of 170 for 77.1 percent, including 77 of 92 for 83.7 percent in Big 12 games),” Self added. “That was a sticking point with us. Then he didn’t shoot a free throw the first half (Monday).”
Mason actually was 2 of 2 from the line while playing all 20 minutes the first half Monday as KU trailed the Mountaineers 39-32 at the break.
“We told him to keep driving it,” Self said. “The second half, obviously he got to the line, put the officials in position where they had to call some. That was big late. That was our only offense the second half, a majority of the half.”
Mason hit two free throws that knotted the score at 71-71 and forced OT. He also made the final two free throws of the game, converting a pair with 7 seconds remaining and making sure the Mountaineers had no shot of tying or winning on a final possession.
Mason finished with 24 points, after scoring five in the first half.
“If it’s a 2-, 3-minute game, he’s the one breaking the defense down for the most part,” Self said of the Petersburg, Va., native. “Frank’s done a good job of being the alpha dog and still sharing it. One thing that frustrates me about Frank, here’s a guy shooting over 50 percent (50.9) from three and he doesn’t shoot it near enough (2 of 6 on Monday) I think because sometimes he’s too unselfish.”
Mason’s backcourt partner, Devonté Graham, hit two threes late in regulation, helping KU overcome West Virginia’s 14-point advantage in the final 2:58. He also opened overtime with a three, and after a Josh Jackson bucket, hit another trey to give KU an eight-point lead with 2:14 left.
“It reminded me of the OU game last year,” Self said of Graham exploding for 27 points in a win over the Sooners in Norman. “We had all labored especially from the perimeter. To think you can win (over No. 9 West Virginia) with Devonté, Josh, Frank going 3 for 18 the first half and ending up 12 of 40 … they figured out a way.
“Devonté made some big-time plays late. Those threes were not ordinary threes. They were contested. He had to make great individual moves to get his shot off. He was special down the stretch,” Self added of Graham, who finished with 18 points on 5-of-12 three-point shooting. Graham had nine points in the second half and a team-leading six in OT.
KU benefited from a full-court press that forced eight West Virginia turnovers in the final 1:45 of regulation and in overtime.
“Landen (Lucas) was as important as anybody. He did a good job of making it hard to throw it in with his length and good job trapping the first pass,” Self said of the 6-10 senior forward.
“The press worked as well as probably any time we’ve pressed, especially against a good team in a crucial situation. What was working … stay in it. The guys did a good job matching up, trapping the ball, making it hard to get it in. It looked a little like West Virginia down the stretch, us pressing them,” Self added.
Known as “Press Virginia” for its pressure defense, West Virginia on Monday caused 15 KU turnovers. The Mountaineers had 21.
“In practice, we’ve probably done it (press) about three times,” Lucas said of pressing. “The few times that we’ve done it we beat the Red team, our Scout team, by about 30. When we do it, we get after them. It’s hard to do constantly because of minutes and all that. We knew we were capable of bringing that out. I enjoy playing on the ball and trying to be part of the first trap. We got a couple of good ones and a couple of steals behind it.”
No roster additions at this time
Self said he would not be adding any KU football players to the team to bolster a roster that currently has just nine available scholarship players.
“If there was a big 6-9 football player that averaged 20 points and 14 rebounds in high school we’d be more than happy to do that,” Self said on his radio show. “We have what, 2 1/2 weeks left in the regular season? We’re not going to do that.
“I have looked into it over Christmas break to see who would be the best two, to see who’d give us the best chance. We decided to stick with what we’ve got. It’d be like if a (football) cornerback gets hurt, asking one of our players to be cornerback. It doesn’t work like that. No way they’d be ready to fill in.”
Time running out on Mason’s career
Senior guard Mason doesn’t like the fact that just two home games remain in his KU career.
“We have up in the locker room how many days are left until the Big 12 tournament, until the NCAA Tournament and then the Final Four. Every day I come in and I wipe it off (the board) because it makes me sad seeing how many days I have left here as a Jayhawk and Senior Night and things like that,” Mason said.
“I just try to erase it and try to enjoy every day.”
KU guard Josh Jackson on Tuesday was chosen Wayman Tisdale national freshman of the week for the second time this season, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) and the Wayman Tisdale Award committee announced.
He had 14 points and 11 rebounds in Monday’s win over West Virginia.
Jackson was previously selected freshman of the week on Jan. 17.
Young down to three
Trae Young, a 6-2 senior guard from Norman (Okla.) North High, revealed in a USA Today article on Tuesday that he’s down to KU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, eliminating Kentucky, Washington and Texas Tech. Young will announce his college choice at noon Thursday.
“It’s the situations; I feel like these three schools are the best situations for me now that we’ve listed everything. I feel good about these three,” Young said in a roundtable discussion with his dad, Ray, and his mom, Candice. USA Today was allowed to sit in on the discussion.
Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue recently praised Self as he walked with Young to the team bus after a Cleveland-Oklahoma City NBA game in OKC.
“Coach Self lets his guards rock,” former Nebraska standout guard Lue said to Young. “He let’s ’em go. I’m telling you!”