(Kansas City, Mo.) - The Kansas City comeback fell just short on Saturday night as Western Illinois, led by 27 points from senior guard Ceola Clark, held on for a 68-63 conference win at Swinney Recreation Center.
Kansas City (3-4, 1-1 SL) never recovered from a slow start in the game, as Western Illinois (5-3, 2-0 SL) jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first four minutes. Clark was the leader, scoring 11 of the Leatherneck points during the run, including three treys from the all-conference guard.
UMKC would not lead the rest of the night, but made it interesting. The 'Roos committed 10 first-half turnovers, and shot only 38.1 percent from the floor while WIU hit 48 percent, and went 6-of-9 from three.
Kansas City cut the margin down to only two at the 9:56 mark on a put-back layup by junior center Fred Chatmon, but the Leathernecks put it back to 10 with 3:04 remaining, holding the 'Roos scoreless for more than six minutes. They would go into the break with a 34-22 lead, getting 18 points in the period from Clark.
The Kangaroos came out with a purpose in the second half, turning it over only twice and chipping away at the WIU lead. After the Leathernecks built the lead to 14 with 16:24 on the clock, UMKC stepped up the defensive intensity, holding the guests scoreless for the next three minutes and cutting the score to only five at 39-34.
Western Illinois pushed its advantage back to nine though, and even got it to 10 with 10 minutes to play. Kansas City again chipped away though, getting started with a three from junior forward Nelson Kirksey at the 9:37 mark. The 'Roos turned it into a 7-0 rally after a dunk on a fastbreak by Alton Tanner, making it 49-46 with 8:28 to play.
The Leathernecks held the 'Roos off again though, and got it back to eight on a Clark three with 6:25 left. Tanner started Kansas City off on another rally though, hitting a three, followed by a layup from senior guard Thomas Staton. After trading free throws, Tanner hit a jumper in the paint with 3:06 on the clock to make it a one-point game at 58-57. That was as close as it got though, as WIU got a huge jumper in the lane by Terell Parks with a minute to play to push the advantage back to five. From there it was foul shots as the guests sealed game.
The 'Roos finished with 37 points off the bench, with no starter scoring more than seven. Staton led the way with 15, while Kirksey had 11 and Tanner tallied 10. It was the first double-digit scoring game of the season for both Kirksey and Tanner, and they became the first newcomers to post double-digit nights for the 'Roos.
Statistically, the game was nearly dead even across the board, with WIU making two more shots and shooting 5.8 percent better. Parks had 15 points and 14 boards for the Leathernecks, while Jack Houpt rounded out double-figure scorers, along with Clark's 27.
Kansas City will hit the road for two non-conference games this week, starting with a trip to North Dakota on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., followed by a game at Louisville on Saturday.