The UMKC men’s basketball team held on late to secure a nail-biting 75-67 victory over CSU Bakersfield on Feb. 16 at Swinney. The Roadrunners had a late surge, but defense and free throws helped the Roos secure the win.
The victory was an added bonus to an already highly anticipated game because of Michael Watson’s jersey retirement. Watson is the all-time leading scorer in UMKC history and had a monumental effect on the Kansas City community. Watson, who grew up in Kansas City and graduated from Central High, also holds the school records for three-pointers, minutes and games played, and field goals over his career.
UMKC opened the game in a full-court press and sped up the Roadrunners into an atmosphere that created early troubles. The Roos scored quick baskets, driving through the lane and converting contested layups. This soon would open up perimeter shots as CSU Bakersfield’s defense would collapse in the lane and leave open shots on the outside.
The Roadrunners tried to change the pace of play by switching their defense to a half-court press making UMKC rush into their offensive sets. The Roos took advantage of good looks at the basket, knocking down seven of their first 14 shots while holding Bakersfield to 5-of-16 from the field early in the first half.
After the Roadrunners were able to trim UMKC’s lead to two, the Roos went on a quick 7-0 spurt to increase their lead to 23-14 at the eight-minute mark.
CSU Bakersfield had many problems getting clean looks at the basket as the Roos contested and suffocated any shots near the rim. The Roadrunner’s bench was becoming visibly frustrated at what was transpiring on the floor.
The three-ball was a big factor in expanding the Roos lead to 36-24 heading into halftime. UMKC shot very efficiently in the first half, including 50 percent from the field and 62 percent from downtown. On the other hand, the Roadrunners only shot 28 percent from the field and 33 percent from deep.
The Roadrunners slowed down UMKC to start off the second half by going into a 2-3 zone defense. This minimized driving lanes for the Roos and subtracted open shots from the perimeter. Through the first five minutes in the second half UMKC was able to keep their lead afloat, but only because of free throws. The Roos found a way to get to the lane by attacking the middle of the zone and finding players near the baseline. CSU Bakersfield used the offensive glass to keep themselves within striking distance.
Unlike the first half, the Roos could not get a three-ball to fall, starting 1-of-8 in the second. The Roadrunners went on a 12-2 momentum-changing run that trimmed UMKC’s lead to six. By the eight-minute mark, the Roos found themselves up by only five, 53-48, and were forced to take a timeout. Xavier Bishop stopped the bleeding with a quick transition layup and gave UMKC a little bit of breathing room heading down the stretch.
Up three in the late stages of the contest, the Roos were in need of a basket that could tip the scales back in their favor. Rob Whitfield did just that, hitting a corner three and putting the lead back up to six.
Free throws and the post-game were major factors in UMKC closing this one out and securing the win. The Roos went 17-of-18 from the line in the second half. Jordan Giles played a big part in holding onto the lead early by scoring 14 points off the bench. The Roos used a balanced attack to win this game, including three players in double figures.
“It’s always a dog fight against Bakersfield,” Coach Richardson said after the game. “Proud of our guys sticking with it.”
Watson was also impressed with the team, stating, “Basketball is a game of runs, and it is great to see the guys learning how to win.”
Watson was humble when describing his jersey retirement, “The opportunity for my jersey to be retired is honoring. It kind of came full circle.”
The Roos will look to continue their strong play when they travel to Seattle to take on the Redhawks on Feb. 21.