KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Shorter shot clock and longer three-point range – but basketball is basketball. Frank Mason III’s 28-point performance served as the perfect reminder that the long wait between seasons is over. Kansas began its dual role as the USA National Team in a 91-83 exhibition victory against Team Canada Tuesday night inside Sprint Center.
In April 2014, Kansas was selected to represent the United States in the 2015 World University Games (WUG). More than a year of planning later, the Jayhawks and a collection of Canada’s best university players met in Kansas City to finally get things underway. Both teams fielded a 12-man roster per WUG regulations, which paired 10 American-born Jayhawks with SMU’s Nic Moore and Florida Gulf Coast’s Julian DeBose to complete the USA roster. Both teams used the exhibition matchup to prepare for the official international competition in Gwangju, Korea, July 3-14.
While Canada brought along a full complement of veterans, the Jayhawks had their own. Mason led the charge. The Jayhawk point guard chalked up 17 points in the final frame alone to finish with 28 on the night, a career-high number had the game been official. His nine field goals (9-for-14) also would have marked a personal best, accompanying his 8-for-8 mark at the free throw line, six rebounds and five assists.
All-Big 12 senior-to-be Perry Ellis led all players at the half with 10 points and trailed Mason with 17 for the game. Fellow senior Jamari Traylor put up a double-double, unofficially the second of his career, with 12 points and 10 rebounds. His four blocks would have also marked a career-best. Wayne Selden, Jr. chimed in with 13 points, all of which were crucially timed in helping Kansas erase a 10-point deficit.
Canada saw four different players reach double digits, led by Chris McLaughlin’s 15. The visitors were dangerously efficient throughout the entire first half, heading to the lockerroom with the lead and a 47 percent shooting efficiency. Where the Jayhawks shot a rocky 1-for-9 from three-point range in the first half, Canada rolled off 5-of-11 from long range.
Armed with a live-game tutorial of the rule changes, head coach Bill Self and the Jayhawks shot 45.5 percent (15-for-33) in the second half and held Canada to 31.4 percent (11-for-35). From behind the arc, Kansas upped its makes to 44 percent and shut Canada down to a meager 2-for-10. On the glass, Kansas outdid the scrappy visitors (49-42) and did the same in the assists column (19-14).
Moore, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, runs the point at SMU, making his partnership with Mason a dynamic one. Both collected five assists apiece, while Selden led the floor with six dimes.
KU newcomers Lagerald Vick and Carlton Bragg, checked in for the first time just a minute apart in the first quarter. With the USA trailing, the rookie duo teamed up for a fastbreak layup to showcase Bragg’s ball handling and Vick’s finish around the rim. The Kansas crowd approved despite Canada’s 25-21 lead at the end of the quarter.
Canada’s advantage quickly picked up steam. Four-straight baskets, including a pair of three’s, stretched the visitors’ lead to double digits, 35-25. The Jayhawks labored to score. They missed eight of nine shots, fighting against blocks from Canada center Mikael Andrews.
Making up for lost time, the Jayhawks put together a 6-0 run in the final 45 seconds of the half. Landen Lucas started it with his first points of the game, joined by two free throws from Mason and a buzzer-beating layup from Vick. In the last minute before halftime, Kansas hacked an eight-point deficit to two. Canada took a 43-41 lead to halftime.
The USA squad used it to start the second half. Selden knocked down his first three-pointer of the game, then benefitted from a goal-tending call to give the Jayhawks its first lead since the 3:40 mark in the first quarter, 51-50. Kansas turned up the defensive pressure, cooling the Canadian shooters. They made just three of their first 10 shots to start the third quarter, breathing additional life into a KU team ready to reclaim control. Riding the momentum, Selden drilled another three to kick KU’s lead to its largest of the evening, 60-54.
Canada clawed back multiple times, but in the waning seconds of the third quarter Mason made a statement. Staring at his defender, Mason held his dribble, planned his attack and took off. He drew in the defense with a drive down the lane and kicked the ball out to Traylor. Traylor didn’t waste it, hitting the baseline jumper right before the horn.
U-S-A chants from the crowd added extra flair to the final period. Canada’s offense wouldn’t stall for long as a 5-0 run put the visitors back in front, 70-66. Mason loved it. He muscled his way to a three-point play and cashed in on another layup when Traylor rejected a shot at the other end. Until Ellis’ free throws with less than five minutes to play, all of KU’s fourth-quarter points came via Mason.
So when Canada reclaimed the lead in the final minutes – who else? Mason pulled up from way beyond the arc. Swish. Kansas up, 82-80.
KU never trailed again. Mason met and exceeded what would have been career-high scoring numbers. The crowd traded the U-S-A chant for the more familiar, less patriotic Rock Chalk variety to put the finishing touch on the 91-83 win.
- USA Starters: G Frank Mason III, G Wayne Selden, Jr., G Nic Moore (SMU), F Perry Ellis, F Hunter Mickelson
- Canada Starters: G Johnny Berhanemeskel, G Aaron Best, G Jahmal Jones, G Jordan Baker, F Chris McLaughlin
- If the game had been official, it would marked the first KU start for Mickelson.
- This marks the second time that a college team will compete in the World University Games. In 2007, the University of Northern Iowa represented the United States and finished ninth in Bangkok, Thailand.
- Mason’s 28 points would have easily beat his career best (21, 2x, last at Oklahoma, 3/7/15). His nine field goals also would’ve bested his best (8, 4x, last at TCU, 1/28/15).
- Lagerald Vick was the first KU newcomer to come in off the bench, checking in at the 5:30 mark in the first quarter. Incoming McDonald’s All-American Carlton Bragg made his first appearance just a minute later (4:27). Both finished with four points
- In the first 12 minutes of the game, all 12 Jayhawks had checked in. Evan Manning and Tyler Self appeared in the first two minutes of the second quarter.
- In his usual role, Perry Ellis was the first on the floor to double digits. He had 10 points by halftime and 17 on the evening. If the numbers were official, it would’ve been his 56th career game in double figures.
- Jamari Traylor score 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, which would have been his first double-double since the 2014 NCAA Tournament vs. Eastern Kentucky. His four blocks would have surpassed his previous career-high (3, 7x, last vs. TCU, 3/12/15).
USA and Canada will square off one more time before heading to the World University Games in Gwangju, Korea. The final Kansas City exhibition game is slated for Friday, June 26 at 7 p.m.