The stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots in college athletics was quite clear at Phog Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. on Jan. 5.
The UMKC Men’s basketball team was never truly competitive against the third-ranked Kansas Jayhawks in a 99-52 loss that improved Kansas’ homecourt winning streak to 68 games, the longest such streak in the nation.
Seniors Jay Couisnard and Bakari Lewis provided 16 points a piece and junior Bernard Kamwa grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, but the Roos were never given an opportunity to get comfortable on offense due to a press defense that the Jayhawks had implemented only “a couple days” earlier, according to Kansas junior Tyshawn Taylor.
“We wanted to come out of the gates and get the first punch,” Couisnard said. “No matter who we’ve played against, we’ve been able to make the first punch.”
It was the Jayhawks who delivered the first punch, the first knockdown, after jumping out to a 15-0 lead. A 22-4 run by the Jayhawks midway through the first half felt like another KO. After the Roos fell behind by 41 with 13:45 remaining, it was clear this match-up was a TKO.
Kansas was Muhammad Ali, UMKC was Ali G.
The differences in skill and confidence were apparent as early as pregame warm-ups. Kansas was relaxed, smiling and rarely missing shots. The Roos, for the most part, looked tense.
“It looks like they are having fun out there,” Lewis said.
But it wasn’t just the skill and confidence of a group of opposing players that beat the Roos, the atmosphere of Allen Fieldhouse clearly affected UMKC.
The sellout crowd of 16,300, the 156th game in a row dating back to almost a decade, went to deafening full volume each time UMKC was in possession of the ball, making communication virtually impossible.
Anytime a Roo lined up for a free-throw the Kansas student section did everything they could to ensure the shooter’s attention was not 100 percent on the shot, with various antics from behind the basket.
By the end of the game, every time freshman Trinity Hall touched the ball, “AIRBALL!!” echoed through the building. It was an example of words seemingly becoming tangible and providing an extra defender on Hall. It was the epitome of a crowd becoming a “sixth man.”
It was a real NCAA Division I experience. There was a band. There was an actual student section behind each basket. There was a tradition and a reason to feel pride.
UMKC returns to Summit League play with an 8-7 record and the experience of big-time college basketball behind them. The crowds at Swinney Recreation Center have fluctuated between 810 and the 1393 that showed up for the opener against Truman State.
There will be no band. There won’t be a student section that can distract opposing players. There won’t be a “sixth man.”
But there will be a stronger team, a team better prepared for the remainder of Summit League play.
“Anytime you play tougher competition it makes you tougher,” senior Spencer Johnson said of the experience. “We’re ready to go.”