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Men’s basketball: Kansas City’s last-minute offensive explosion helps them soar past St. Thomas

Kansas City ends the season 19-13, having placed 4th in the Summit League. (Julia Kapros/Roo News)

The 13-9 Kansas City Roos faced the 8-12 St. Thomas Tommies for the first time in UMKC history on Thursday night. By the time the clock hit zero, however, both teams looked like classic rivals. 

Kansas City’s first points came via Arkel Lamar’s three-point shot, where Marvin Nesbitt created the space for Lamar to hit the first shot. KC’s lead didn’t last long though, as the Tommies exposed the Roo’s defense early. 

St. Thomas created multiple mismatches against the Roos on the perimeter and exposed the paint for multiple drives. There were moments that left the Roos’ defense confused, leaving gaping holes in the middle for simple layups or easy fouls.

In total, the Tommies managed to score an impressive 10 points in two minutes. The team was able to execute not only on offense but on defense too. They allowed zero points during their impressive run, smothering the Roos in any way possible. KC head coach Bill Donlon called a time at 14:33 to huddle the team up and provided a well-needed pep talk. 

Evan Gilyard II, the graduate guard who leads the pack for the Roos, provided an insight into what his coach had to say about their situation. 

“We knew that we had to pick it up on the defensive end,” he said. “They’re a good team and everything but we believe in our defense.”

This mindset, with the inclusion of poise and zen-like patience, allowed Kansas City to claw back in and keep the score close. Within 5 minutes the Roos put up a stellar 19-8 run, turning a seven-point deficit into a 25-22 lead. Leading the way was Gilyard, who scored eight points throughout the short comeback. 

Once both teams reached halftime, the game was near even at 42-41. Throughout the first half, the Roos offense found success on the perimeter and attacked the rim against a sturdy Tommies defense. Kansas City went 5-7 from the three-point line, also scoring 10 total points inside the paint. The Roos struggled to create an expansive lead, however, with 17 total lead changes occurring before halftime. 

Statistically, Nesbitt made a difference in the half, earning nine points, five rebounds, two assists and one block. Gilyard also had nine points, two rebounds and four assists. However, neither Nesbitt nor Gilyard scored the most points. It was graduate forward Lamar who scored 14 points and reeled in one rebound. His sudden rise from the bench to contributing starter has caught the eyes of players and coaches alike. 

Coach Donlon praised Lamar’s overall performance, whose injury struggles prevented him from participating. 

“You’re talking about a guy that basically for two years, didn’t play,” he said. “He’s worked very hard and the guys have shown great support and he’s an incredibly important piece because there’s nobody in the league like him.” 

Jack Chapman (#34) shooting a free throw in the first half. (Julia Kapros/Roo News)

The second half strongly mirrored the patterns from the first. Kansas City continued to chip away at St. Thomas’ weak perimeter defense and created plays on the inside. Turnovers killed multiple offensive drives though, and the Roos turned over the ball six times. 

The final 60 seconds proved to be the best minute of the game. 

Nesbitt hit two free throws, inflating the lead from 72-69 to 74-69. With the Roos in possession, Gilyard commanded the court with multiple perimeter shifts. Trade-offs between each teammate led to an isolation opportunity for Gilyard. He watched his defender, shook him off with a quick two-step and delivered a clean, rainbow shot for a 77-72 game. The fans roared victoriously as the phenomenal guard celebrated his game-winning shot. 

He would seal the deal with a steal and a pass to Lamar for an energy-surging dunk. Once the final buzzer rang, the Roos scored 81 points to St. Thomas’ 72. 

Kansas City found a winning formula that they could rely on with injuries piling up: continue to use bench players in key moments, focus on the three-point line and dominate the paint. 

The Roos now head on the road to face St. Thomas, Oral Roberts, North Dakota and North Dakota State on Feb. 8, 12, 17 and 19. 

Injury Updates

Sophomore forward Trace Evans is out for the rest of the season with a non-basketball-related injury. Redshirt sophomore guard Jacob Johnson is also out for the rest of the season due to an undisclosed injury. Star forward Josiah Allick continues to stay on the bench with no sign of starting anytime soon. However, according to Coach Donlon, freshman guard Justus Peuser should return at some point this season. 

Donlon hits 150 wins, can reach major milestones within a matter of days

On Thursday night, coach Donlon hit his 150th win of his career. If he gets one more win in the upcoming weeks, he will pass Rich Zvosec for most wins in three seasons in UMKC history (NCAA-era, since 1986). 

The current rankings are as follows:

  • Zvosec – 42 wins 
  • Donlon – 41 wins
  • Richardson – 36 wins
  • Hunt – 31 wins
  • Sundvold – 27 wins
  • Brown – 26 wins

If he passes 43 career wins, he will also pass Bob Sundvold and rank 5th place all-time in wins in the NCAA-era at UMKC.

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