The Spartans certainly played like anything but an underdog well into the second half against the regular-season Big 12 Conference champions, closing Kansas’ lead to 54-53 following a basket by Alvin Ellis.
Mason’s steal late in the first half could’ve stood alone on its own merit. The Jayhawks held an 11-point lead with less than two minutes to go before the break after a 13-2 run. They had a 36-23 edge on the glass with Miles Bridges leading the way with 18 points and nine boards. Moritz Wagner scored a career-high 26 points and D.J. Wilson sank four crucial free throws in the final seconds to preserve the victory.
However, what’s even more fun is watching Mason show us why he’s one of the best when he’s doing that work on the court, like he was on Sunday afternoon in the Jayhawks’ Second Round game against the Michigan State Spartans.
Landen Lucas said he’s not anxious about any ghosts from last time. However, the Spartans put a sluggish start to the game behind them and blew the doors off the Hurricanes, 78-58. General Manager Chris King said during the Jayhawks 90-70 win Sunday over Michigan State.
Kansas tied the game with a free throw from Frank Mason III and took the lead with a three from Lagerald Vick to make it 12-9.
But it was Jackson who shook off misses on his first three shot attempts – including an embarrassing failed dunk attempt – who shined the most in his second straight dominating performance in the tournament. They have let too many teams hang around this season.
A senior back court doesn’t always equate to Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final Four berths, but it’s a start. Like Bridges, Jackson is likely a one-and-done type player, given his combination of size, skill and length that National Basketball Association teams covet, but he has a chance to make a huge impact as a freshman. But when they cut it to one, that’s when we played our best ball. Purdue will be unable to match Kansas’ scoring output, and Self will coach his team to another Sweet 16 appearance. MSU mostly struggled this season, and the Spartans didn’t get many chances to feel good about themselves with easy looks off turnovers. “Maybe more than people think we should’ve, but those moments helped define us when [the] game [was] on line”.
The Spartans head home to East Lansing, their season over but full of potential for 2017-18. The league was down this year at least in part because Michigan State was. “They’ll benefit from the return of 6’9″ forward Gavin Schilling from a season lost to knee injuries, which, along with the arrival of 6’10” five-star recruit Jaren Jackson, will provide the size that was glaringly missing this year.