There is nothing like a touch of March, or April, in mid-November. That is the whole idea behind the Champions Classic, a heavyweight doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. Kansas got into the spirit of it as well as anyone, holding off Duke, 77-75, last night in what could conceivably have been a preview of March Madness or even the title game in April.
Frank Mason III calmly dribbled until he saw an opening, then drained the deciding basket with 1.8 seconds left to clinch the victory right around midnight. Basketball can only hope for a finish as riveting as this start to the season was.
The Kansas team’s Twitter account showed the scene in the locker room after the game: players shouted, jumped up and down and surrounded Mason in a manner befitting a title-clincher.
“It felt good coming out of my hand,” said the 5-10 guard who had 21 points, including 17 in the second half. “I just thank God and my teammates for putting me in that position.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said: “Mason made a big-time play . . . It was a heck of a game. Their backcourt is a heck of a backcourt.”
A chant of “Let’s go, Jayhawks” filled the Garden down the stretch, but the cheers were all for Duke when Frank Jackson drilled a three that erased the last bit of a 10-point deficit and tied the score at 75 in the final half-minute of regulation.
At the start, the focus for Duke was more on who wasn’t playing than who was. The nation’s No. 1 team was without three injured, high-caliber freshmen. The Garden crowd did not get to see Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden, who were McDonald’s All-Americans, or Harry Giles, who was ranked the No. 2 recruit in the country despite having missed his senior year of high school because of an injury.
After a 96-61 victory over Grand Canyon on Sunday, Duke forward Amile Jefferson said, “It’s always ‘Next man up.’ We won’t have a short bench for long.”
Kansas coach Bill Self told the Kansas City Star earlier this week: “They have good players. You’ve got McDonald’s All-Americans playing where those other guys would be playing, which goes to show how deep they are.”
Depth or no, the Blue Devils had to hold their breath when Grayson Allen limped to the locker room late in the first half. He returned for the start of the second.
But in the end, the only sound that mattered was not a whistle but a roar that followed a senior’s clutch basket.