The UMKC men’s basketball team was at a terminal in the Las Vegas airport Sunday evening when it got the news: For the first time in its Division I program history, the Kangaroos had earned a spot in a postseason tournament.
The Roos had spent the latter part of the week in Nevada for the Western Athletic Conference Championship, where, as the No. 3 seed, they beat No. 6 UT-Rio Grande Valley in the first round but dropped the semifinal to the second seed and eventual champion New Mexico State.
Now the Kangaroos (17-16) will play Green Bay (18-13), which played in the NCAA tournament last year, in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational on Wednesday.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment,” said fourth-year head coach Kareem Richardson. “Ultimately we’d like to win a WAC Championship and be in the NCAA Tournament. But we have to take steps and this will be a huge step for the program.”
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After dismissing top scorer Martez Harrison in December, the Roos, who started the season 7-4, lost their momentum. They dropped six straight games and didn’t win again until Jan. 7. They bounced back to finish with an 8-6 record in the WAC and a winning regular-season record for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
Part of the team’s resurgence can be traced to senior LaVell Boyd, who enters the CBI averaging 17.9 points per game, feeling comfortable taking charge of the offense.
But it was senior forward Kyle Steward who recognized the Roos had to put Harrison out of their minds if they were going to salvage their season.
“I think it was just the belief in all the guys,” said Steward, who is second to Darnell Tillman on the team in rebounds with 175. “I know what we are all capable of doing. I know how well we can play. It just took us a game or two to finally realize it and put it together.”
Since beating Rio Grande Valley on Jan. 7, the Roos have gone 10-6 and averaged 79 points per game. They are the only men’s team from Missouri that is participating in a Division I tournament.
UMKC lost to Green Bay 95-77 during the Bill Frack Tournament in November, when Harrison was still on the roster. Boyd (23 points) and Broderick Newbill (12) led the team in scoring.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at the Swinney Recreation Center. If the Roos win, they will play the winner of the Wyoming-Eastern Washington game in the quarterfinals on Monday.
Green Bay (18-13) at UMKC (17-16)
What: First round. Winner will face either Wyoming or Eastern Washington in Monday’s quarterfinal.
When: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Swinney Recreation Center.
College Basketball Invitational Glance
All Times CDT
Wednesday, March 15
Utah Valley (15-16) at Georgia Southern (18-14), 6 p.m.
Loyola (Md.) (15-16) at George Mason (20-13), 6 p.m.
Hampton (14-16) at Coastal Carolina (16-17), 6 p.m.
Toledo (17-16) at George Washington (19-14), 6 p.m.
San Francisco (20-12) at Rice (22-11), 7 p.m.
Stony Brook (18-13) at UIC (15-18), 7 p.m.
Green Bay (18-13) at UMKC (17-16), 7:05 p.m.
Eastern Washington (22-11) at Wyoming (18-14), 8 p.m.
Monday, March 20
Loyola (Md.)-George Mason winner vs. Hampton-Coastal Carolina winner
Stony Brook-UIC winner vs. Toledo-George Washington winner
Eastern Washington-Wyoming winner vs. Green Bay-UMKC winner
San Francisco-Rice winner vs. Utah Valley-Georgia Southern winner
Wednesday, March 22
Monday, March 27: TBD
Wednesday, March 29: TBD
Friday, March 31: TBD