Martez Harrison was one of the few bright spots this year for a struggling UMKC team.
Harrison, the Western Athletic Conference’s freshman of the year out of University Academy, did all he could Thursday. But the Kangaroos fell short in the conference tournament again.
Although UMKC had three players in double figures, led by Harrison’s team-high 18 points, it was Idaho’s Stephen Madison who was the difference-maker, scoring a game-high 26 points and grabbing 17 rebounds as the Kangaroos lost 73-70 in the WAC quarterfinals at the Orleans Arena.
“Very hard fought game on both ends,” UMKC head coach Kareem Richardson said. “Obviously it comes down to a few possessions here and there.”
Fourth-seeded UMKC received its highest conference tournament seed since 2006 despite coming into Thursday’s matchup on a five-game losing streak, including an 87-80 home loss to Idaho on Saturday.
Madison scored a game-high 26 points for the Vandals, 15-17, and it didn’t take long for him to make his mark. Madison, a first-team all-WAC selection, averaged close to 22 points per game in the regular season. He scored 10 of Idaho’s first 18 points to begin the game.
“Arguably, he’s the best player in the league,” Richardson said about Madison. “Any time you can get a player that’s won player of the week five times, which he did, he certainly is one of, if not the best player in the league.”
In a back-and-forth game that featured 19 lead changes and eight ties, the largest lead for either team was eight points: a 68-60 Vandals lead with 2:14 left in the game.
But UMKC responded with a 7-0 run that cut the lead to one with 1:23 thanks to a John Burke layup. With 22 seconds to go, Madison scored for a 70-67 Idaho lead. Harrison missed a layup on the ensuing possession.
“We stayed aggressive, attacking the rim,” Richardson said. “Our guys continued to battle even though they had a nice little lead there.”
Kangaroos forward Nelson Kirksey had 15 points and grabbed five rebounds, while Fred Chatmon had 12 points and seven rebounds for UMKC, 10-20.
Idaho also had three players score in double figures, but found a way to win despite being outscored in the paint 28-21 and outrebounded 37-26.
The key for the Vandals, though, was their free-throw shooting. Although they missed nine of their 36 attempts, the Vandals got to the line 12 more times than the Kangaroos.
Madison made all 11 of his attempts. Sekou Wiggs also had 18 points off the bench for Idaho in the loss.
“They did a heck of a job making their free throws at the end,” Richardson said. “That was the difference in the game.”
While the Kangaroos will lose six starters next season, Harrison is among seven letter winners set to return. He set four UMKC freshman records: scoring, at 17.2 points per game, assists, steals and free throws made and attempted.