Kansas Christian College had never played against a Division I opponent in its history. That is, until Saturday, when the tiny school in Overland Park, Kan. played two such games in the span of one afternoon.
In a season unlike any other, scheduling unlike any other probably shouldn’t be surprising. In its quest to find games, Kansas City hosted Kansas Christian in a doubleheader, with the Roos sweeping the pair of games against the National Christian College Athletic Association program. With the first game starting around noon and the second ending around 7PM, the teams fit in a week of basketball between lunch and dinner.
The games were a product of the scheduling Rubik’s Cube caused by the pandemic.
“I can promise you this wasn’t to create notoriety,” second-year Roos’ head coach Billy Donlon said on Friday. “It was really done out of necessity to see how we could get two more games.”
The Roos had seen three home games scrapped due to COVID-19-related cancellations, and were facing a Summit League-imposed moratorium on playing non-conference games after Jan. 1, something with which Donlon said he agrees. Nonetheless, with holiday breaks bearing down, the Roos’ coach wanted to find a way to get his team on their home court. The preference was a Division I opponent, but Donlon said Kansas City was unable to find anything that worked.
In stepped the Falcons, whose campus sits just a handful of miles west and across the state line from the Roos. The original thought was to play one game Friday and one game Saturday, in large part to help prepare for the Summit League schedule, which sees the Roos debut with back-to-back games at North Dakota on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3. COVID-19 testing protocols, however, made that difficult under a time crunch.
Instead, for a Chicago native, an idea that would’ve made Cubs’ legend Ernie Banks beam emerged: why not play two?
“We were like, you know what, they do it in baseball all the time, they do it in softball,” Donlon said. “These kids, when they’re playing in the summer they play four games, it’s different, I get it, but that’s kind of how it came to be.”
The same day, back-to-back may also have been historic. Donlon recalled Georgia playing two games in one day at the 2008 SEC Tournament after a tornado caused the tournament to reshuffle its schedule. But in terms of the regular season, he said he wasn’t personally aware of anything similar having happened at the Division I level. He also said that Mike Sanzere, a Summit League officials coordinator, said he hadn’t seen anything like it in his 40-plus years in the sport.
On the court, the results were as expected. The Roos ended up winning a pair of blowouts, winning game one by 56 points, and game two by 59 points.
Kansas Christian competes in Division II of the NCCAA, a 36-school division that includes some schools that frequently play NCAA Division competition — like Toccoa Falls — and others, like the Falcons, that do not. The Falcons are also members of the Association of Christian College Athletics, and per Wikipedia, have an enrollment of 130 students.
Donlon talked about the Falcons, and the afternoon, in a release after the second game.
“We are very appreciative of Kansas Christian; their administration, their coaches and their kids for following our COVID protocols, taking care of that this week and being willing to play two games in one day,” Head Coach Billy Donlon said. “I thought it was important for our guys, and the way it worked out a lot of young guys played a lot of minutes and got a lot of opportunities. Overall, I was really pretty pleased with the day. We did our job.”
Kansas City was shorthanded, missing key players Marvin Nesbitt Jr. and Hidde Roessnick to injury, but got a pair of big performances from sophomore big man Josiah Allick (40 minutes, 44 points, 21 rebounds over the two games). Donlon was also able to hand minutes to a slew of younger players.
Freshman Kamien Lennox logged the most minutes on the day with 57 over the two games, including 37 in the second game. Fellow freshman D’Anthony Pennington — who had not played thus far this season — got 54 minutes of action across both wins. Donlon said that plenty of bananas and hydration was the plan the between games, and that the team nutritionist and athletic trainer had put together a plan for the layover.
It was a day that served its purpose for the Roos.
“I think I’m a pretty honest guy, I don’t go as political or coach speak, and yeah, I’d also like to win some games, does that factor in? Absolutely,” Donlon said. “But I want to be clear, if we had found a Division I home game, that’s what we would’ve played instead of doing the Ernie Banks.”
In the end, it went down as a pair of wins for the Roos, and another unique footnote in a very different college basketball season.