On Kim Anderson’s big night, his debut game as Missouri’s men’s basketball coach, UMKC stole the show.
The Kangaroos pulled off one of the great triumphs in program history 69-61 on Friday, taking a major step in coach Kareem Richardson’s second year, knocking off the state’s flagship program and a Southeastern Conference team.
“I’m not going to sit here and fool anybody,” Richardson said. “It’s big for our program. But it can’t be the biggest one for us this year. We have to build on it and look forward to the next challenge.”
That’s Monday at Kansas State, and suddenly UMKC doesn’t look like a program that’s been pushed around by majors over the years.
More than a decade ago, the Kangaroos pulled off the occasional stunner, beating the likes of Nebraska, Colorado and Mississippi State.
Nobody who was at Municipal Auditorium that night in 2003 will forgot UMKC’s 41-point victory over Kansas State.
Now, there’s a first victory in four attempts over Mizzou, and the Kangaroos did it by grabbing the early lead and never losing control.
The Kangaroos’ zone defense frustrated the Tigers, who never showed enough consistency to make a run.
And Mizzou couldn’t do much with UMKC point guard Martez Harrison, who finished with 26 points. Harrison, a sophomore from Kansas City who was chosen freshman of the year in the Western Athletic Conference last season, made 15 of 16 free throws. This from a player who shot 63.8 percent from the line last year.
“It’s important that a lead guard knocks down free throws,” Harrison said. “But the whole team shot well tonight.”
The Kangaroos hit 79 percent from the line (23 of 29), and more stunning, they attempted 13 more free throws than the Tigers.
“That’s the game right there,” Anderson said.
Harrison had 19 of UMKC’s 36 second-half points.
“He’s a great player,” Missouri guard Wes Clark said. “He played with great pace and controlled the floor for the most part. He basically dominated the second half.”
The Kangaroos surprisingly won the board battle and hit enough big threes to keep the Tigers chasing. Missouri closed the deficit to three twice in the second half, the last time at 48-45, but didn’t get closer.
MU freshman wing Montaque Gill-Caesar finished with 21 points and Clark scored 13 for Mizzou, but the Tigers lacked aggressiveness and didn’t get the ball inside nearly enough.
“I thought we were a step slow, and I don’t know why,” Anderson said.
This was the nightmare scenario for Missouri, which made the rare hire of a Division II coach after last season.
Anderson, the former Mizzou star and assistant coach, had just led Central Missouri to a NCAA championship when athletic director Mike Alden hired him to replace Frank Haith, who left for Tulsa.
The choice was a popular one. But the debut was a disaster as the Tigers lost an opener for the first time since 2005, when they fell at home to Sam Houston State.
The Tigers knew the season could be difficult after losing 78 percent of their scoring from last year. Mizzou welcomed eight newcomers to a roster.
“It’s really disappointing, but I believe in these guys,” Anderson said. “The kids are upset and they should be.”
UMKC had to sweat out the final minute. The Kangaroos had a chance to take a nine-point lead with two minutes remaining but Frank Williams Jr. missed a layup, and Mizzou quickly cut the deficit to five.
But the Tigers came away empty on their next three possessions.
Harrison hit a pair of free throws with 58.6 seconds remaining, opening a seven-point lead, and the advantage was back to nine when Shayok Shayok got a breakaway off a long Mizzou miss.
As the final seconds counted down, the UMKC bench was a picture of joyous jumps, hugs and handshakes.
“This is really huge for us,” Harrison said. “It’s big for the program, and it’s going to help build our guys’ confidence.”