By John Bohnenkamp
MACOMB, Ill. — It’s one thing to have to come back from a big deficit.
It’s another thing to do it against one of the best defensive teams in the Summit League.
Western Illinois found out on Monday night that a deep hole against Kansas City felt more like a canyon.
The Leathernecks’ 83-75 loss to the Roos at Western Hall was really decided in the first half, when Western Illinois fell behind by 24 points and spent the rest of the game trying to grind points out of a team that leads the Summit League in scoring defense.
The Roos allow 64.3 points per game, and when they put up 48 in the first half, the Leathernecks were going to have to string together a lot of second-half stops to rally.
They almost did, getting to within 79-72 with 2:52 to play before the Roos held on for the road victory.
“They really jumped out on us,” said Western Illinois forward Will Carius, who led the Leathernecks with 18 points. “We didn’t really respond quick enough. We had a good fight in the second half and made it a game, at least. But the main point is, we didn’t get out to the start we needed to.”
“They were so physical on us at the beginning,” said associate head coach Chad Boudreau. “They jumped on us, they set the tone.”
The Leathernecks (13-9 overall, 4-6 Summit League) had a chance to make up some ground in the conference standings with a four-game homestand. But they went 1-3, and now face a two-game road trip against Oral Roberts on Thursday and Kansas City on Saturday needing to get momentum back in the closing weeks of the season.
Kansas City (13-9, 6-4) had runs of 17-5 and 15-3 in the first half. The Roos converted eight Western Illinois turnovers into 13 points. They led 48-31 at halftime.
“They’re just too good of a defensive team to get down that big,” Carius said. “It’s a grind to get back from that much of a deficit.”
“They did a good job of speeding us up,” Boudreau said. “Against a team like UMKC, you almost have got to slow down. You’re not going to be faster, you’re not going to be quicker. You have to slow down, get the good read inside. And we didn’t do that. Second half we did that — we slowed down, we settled down.”
The Leathernecks couldn’t slow Kansas City guard Evan Gilyard II, who scored 33 points and had eight assists while playing all 40 minutes.
“We were trying to corral (Gilyard), but he was just getting downhill, making plays, making shots,” Boudreau said.
The Leathernecks’ second-half climb was erratic. They could get a couple of consecutive stops, but not those parade of defensive possessions that could lead to a big run.
“It’s really just that grind from coming from that far behind,” Carius said. “We keep it within 10 in the first half, and it’s way easier to come back. It’s really about playing a full game at this point.”
“We, defensively, have not been able to string enough stops together,” Boudreau said. “We have to be in the game to absorb runs, and then we make our own runs and put teams away.”
Western Illinois had three possessions to get closer after getting to within seven, but missed three shots and turned the ball over once.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot there,” Boudreau said.
Luka Barisic had 17 points for the Leathernecks. Colton Sandage had 15 points. Tamell Pearson had 12.
Now the Leathernecks get on the road for two crucial games, including a second meeting with the Roos.
“We’ve just got to take that second half, bottle it, and use it against them on Saturday night,” Carius said.
Photo: Western Illinois’ Colton Sandage tries to cut off Kansas City’s Evan Gilyard II on an inbounds play.