LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — No. 2 Kansas had the perfect remedy for its slow start: senior guard Frank Mason III.
Mason had 22 points, five rebounds and four assists, and the Jayhawks held off Oklahoma State 87-80 on Saturday.
Kansas (16-1, 5-0 Big 12) rallied for its 16th straight win and could move into the top spot when the AP poll comes out on Monday. No. 1 Baylor lost 89-68 to West Virginia on Tuesday.
When the Jayhawks fell behind early on against the Cowboys, Mason took over. He scored in transition. He connected from long range. He dished the ball around to open Jayhawks on the floor.
“(Mason’s) bulldog mentality, he’s getting that thing to the rim, he’s going to make the stop, he’s gonna sit down and guard,” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said. “He’s gonna do whatever it takes for that team to win. There’s not many people that have that.”
Devonte’ Graham scored 21 points for Kansas, and freshman Josh Jackson added 20 points and 11 rebounds. Svi Mykhailiuk scored 14 points, and Landen Lucas grabbed 12 rebounds.
The Jayhawks grabbed their first lead when Graham burst down the lane for a layup with 14:10 left. Graham also had a key 3-pointer and Mason got loose in transition to help Kansas to the tight victory.
Kansas went 5 for 20 from 3-point range.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well at all today,” coach Bill Self said. “Devonte’ made three and everybody else was pretty cold.”
Jeffrey Carroll scored 23 for Oklahoma State (10-7, 0-5), and Mitchell Solomon had 16 points. Jawun Evans finished with 15 on 6-for-22 shooting.
The Cowboys got off to a nice start, holding the Jayhawks to 10 points in the first 12 minutes. Oklahoma State ran out to an 11-point lead over that same span, aided by early buckets from Evans and Carroll.
“Not one second in my 30 years have I ever thought any game wasn’t winnable,” Underwood said. “You’re damn straight. I don’t care who we play. I think we got a chance every single night to fight and to win. I expected to win tonight. If for one second I don’t ever do that, Oklahoma State should quit paying me.”
Kansas looks set to ascend to No. 1, but Self doesn’t care very much about the rankings right now.
“I don’t know what’ll happen, if we’ll be 1, if Villanova’ll jump us or whatever,” Self said. “It’s really not a big deal. I’d much rather be 5-0 in the league than be No. 1. At least we have that.”
Kansas remains the lone undefeated team in Big 12 play, but a difficult stretch is looming at the end of the month. The Jayhawks visit West Virginia and Kentucky and host Baylor over a span of nine days. If the Jayhawks want to keep their hopes alive for their 13th straight Big 12 title, they’ll have to find a way to give their starters adequate rest.
Kansas travels to Ames, Iowa to take on the Iowa State on Monday.
Still in search of its first Big 12 win, Oklahoma State hosts No. 25 Kansas State on Wednesday.