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Kansas’ backcourt: The best closers in college basketball

Kansas guards Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham have the Jayhawks eyeing a Final Four run because they walked out of last year's Elite Eight experience as different players.

They know how to close games as well as any backcourt in the nation.

It almost seems as if they're just showing off, but they were at it again during Monday's 73-63 win over Oklahoma.

Of course, they didn't arrive at Kansas that way.

Mason originally committed to Towson and Graham to Appalachian State out of high school and they constantly heard they weren't even supposed to be on this level, which had to motivate them.

Then it also took experiencing the disappointment of last season to help the duo learn to navigate late-game situations.

In his final game at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas senior Frank Mason III scored a game-high 23 points in a comeback victory over Oklahoma. Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

Just think of their last two plays on offense in their 59-54 loss to Villanova in the Elite Eight.

With the Jayhawks down two and less than 45 seconds remaining, Graham tried splitting a pair of defenders. He had the ball knocked out from behind and fouled out diving for the loose ball while simultaneously undercutting Josh Hart.

Needing a 3-pointer to tie the game with 13 seconds left, Mason picked up his dribble in no man's land. Unable to shoot over Mikal Bridges and unable to pass either, he was stripped of the ball by Ryan Arcidiacono and Nova took possession with five seconds left.

That's how last season ended for the backcourt. On two of the most critical possessions, they didn't even get a shot up.

Watching Mason and Graham execute in the clutch this season, it's hard to imagine that scenario against Villanova could repeat itself.

They've shown what they can do in close games again and again.

It started with Mason delivering the game-winner over Duke's Matt Jones in the Jayhawks' 77-75 victory in November.

Need more proof?

In the Jayhawks' 14-point rally over the final 2:58 of regulation against West Virginia on Feb. 14, Mason and Graham combined for 19 of their closing 21 points to force overtime. A pair of Graham 3-pointers in the extra period gave KU the lead for good in an 84-80 win.

Just so that didn't come off as a fluke, Kansas gave the Sooners a similar dose on Monday. The only difference is the Jayhawks didn't wait as long to start their comeback.

Let's rewind to the final six minutes against the Sooners.

KU trimmed a 12-point deficit down to two.

Graham's back-to-back 3-pointers from nearly the same spot on the right wing moved Kansas from a 58-56 deficit to taking the lead for good.

Not to be outdone, Mason followed with a left-handed scoop shot. Then he assisted a Graham 3 from the left side and sandwiched a pair of jumpers with an assist on a Landen Lucas dunk in-between.

The Jayhawks closed the game on a 31-9 run. Mason and Graham scored or assisted on the final 17 points (Lucas' basket was the only one scored by someone else).

Mason, who is having the kind of season that should end with a lot of Player of the Year hardware, finished with a game-high 23 points. He had five assists and only one turnover in the second half.

Graham was the second leading scorer with 16, scoring nine points in the final six minutes.

And the best backcourt closers in college basketball closed out the regular season in Allen Fieldhouse with a win, giving the Jayhawks good reason to dream big in March.

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