According to accepted laws of physics and gravity, Kansas guard Frank Mason is not supposed to be the Jayhawks’ leading rebounder in a gritty conference victory over a top-25 opponent.
If you believe Kansas’ official roster, Mason stands 5 feet 11. If you believe his coach, that height might be closer to 5 feet 10. If you stop by a KU practice and listen to the insults being thrown about, you will probably hear a teammate take a shot at Mason’s little-man status.
“They kind of tell me,” Mason says, “they don’t know how I grab those rebounds because I’m a midget.”
Kansas’ players like to call Mason the heartbeat of their team, a tiny pulsating muscle that maintains the rhythm and offers the energy to make this whole thing work. But even then, they are a little surprised when Mason does something like he did on Tuesday night at Allen Fieldhouse. They have to be.
On a night defined by fouls, whistles and some choppy play, Mason dived into the muck and delivered something beautiful, finishing with 16 points and a team-high nine rebounds as No. 9 Kansas held off No. 24 Oklahoma State 67-57 and improved to 3-0 in the Big 12 conference.
“I love playing in a game like that,” Mason said. “It just makes the game more fun. I just like to be out there when guys are physical.”
By most measures, this was not an appealing basketball game. The teams combined for 49 fouls, 71 free throws and three technicals. It took more than 2 1/2 hours. Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford called it one of the “crazier-called” games that he can remember. Kansas coach Bill Self joked that he was happy he didn’t consume more liquid at halftime.
“I’d have been in trouble,” Self said.
Mason is the type of player that relishes a night like this. He was in double figures for the 13th straight game. He splashed in a three-pointer with nine minutes left, a haymaker from the wing that stretched the Jayhawks’ lead to 55-44. He was there down the stretch, as the Jayhawks took a few punches and countered right back.
“Frank is definitely our best playmaker,” Kansas’ Kelly Oubre said. “He does everything.”
By late in the second half, the Jayhawks had a 10-point cushion — a cushion they would need as starting forwards Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis spent most of the second half in foul trouble. The foul trouble meant that sophomore forward Landen Lucas was thrown into crunch time minutes, ahead of freshman Cliff Alexander. Self also stuck with freshman guard Devonte’ Graham, whose defense — along with sophomore Wayne Selden — helped limit Oklahoma State’s Phil Forte, the Big 12’s leading scorer, to two points during the second half.
“I thought Wayne was fabulous and I thought Devonte’ was fabulous,” Self said.
For most of the night, it was vintage Kansas defense. The Jayhawks protected the rim. They held the Cowboys to 31.4 percent shooting. They were physical and active and suffocating for stretches, helping Kansas (14-2) improve to 3-0 in the Big 12 for the ninth straight year.
And yet, Self was mostly unsatisfied with his team’s effort, which included two technical fouls during the first half. While Kansas took a 32-28 lead into the locker room, the first half was marked by a minor dust-up with just more than 12 minutes left. Moments after a dead ball near the KU bench, Oklahoma State’s Le’Bryan Nash bumped into Oubre and shoved him toward the Jayhawks’ bench. A small fracas erupted, with Kansas’ Traylor and Alexander stepping toward Nash and assistant coaches spilling onto the court.
Nash was assessed a technical for the shove, while Traylor was handed a tech for his role in escalating the situation. As the officials went to the monitor to confirm the calls, Self ripped into Traylor in front of the Kansas bench.
“Why do you get a technical over this?” Self would say after the game. “Act like you’ve at least been there before.”
The rest of Self’s comments were not much more positive. His team played selfishly, he said, taking a momentary step back heading into Saturday night’s road test at Iowa State. In some ways, it was a hard game to love. The Jayhawks dominated the boards, and Mason made plays, and Kansas found another way to win.
But as the clock pushed toward 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Self was mostly glad it was over.
“It was a bad game, long game, everything,” Self said. “The only thing that was good tonight was that we won. But yeah, it took forever.”