The Kansas Wesleyan men battled back from two huge deficits Monday night.
A third comeback in overtime wasn’t in the cards, though.
Tabor outscored KWU 11-5 the final 2½ minutes of the extra period and defeated the Coyotes 77-73 in a Kansas Conference contest inside Mabee Arena.
The loss was their fifth in a row and dropped them to 7-10 overall, 5-8 in the conference. Tabor improved to 8-5 and 6-5.
It was an uphill battle from the get-go. The Coyotes trailed 9-0 at the start, committing turnovers on six of their first eight possession, but a quick 15-5 surge gave them a 15-14 lead with 10:45 left in the half.
After Tabor took a 28-22 lead KWU scored six consecutive points that tied it at 28 with 4½ minutes left in the half.
The Bluejays ended the half with a 14-3 burst, though, and scored the first eight points of the second half, giving them a 50-31 lead with 18:18 left in the game.
Led by AJ Range (SR/Junction City, Kan.) and Easton Hunter (FR/Colwich, Kan.) the Coyotes fought back once again. Three consecutive 3-pointers, two by Hunter, fueled an 18-2 explosion that cut the deficit to 52-49 with 11:48 left.
KWU got within one twice down the stretch (59-58 and 63-62) but couldn’t get the lead. Trailing 66-62 with 4:44 remaining an Ethan Speer (JR/Salina, Kan.) free throw and 3-pointer tied the game at 66 with 41.9 seconds left. Tabor missed a shot on its next possession, but Tyus Jeffries (JR/Oklahoma City, Okla.)’ guarded shot bounced off the rim as time expired in regulation.
KWU finally took a 70-69 lead on a Hunter basket with 2:46 left in overtime but Tabor scored the next eight points and 10 of the final 13.
“Sometimes when it rains it pours and that’s kind of what I feel like we’re in right now,” KWU coach Anthony Monson said. “Things just aren’t going our way. We’re fighting, there’s no doubt about that. Nobody’s laying down, nobody’s given up. Guys are working hard but we can’t dig ourselves these holes. We lost that game at the start of the game and the end of the first half and start of the second half.
Monson was pleased with the way his team rallied in the second half and praised the work of Speer, who scored a career-best 13 points – all in the second half – and Micah Lovett (FR/Tulsa, Okla.), who finished with a career-high eight points and three assists.
“We don’t have those guys we’re not in the position we were in,” he said. “Micah feels pretty bad because he had those turnovers in overtime that were pretty costly, but the truth is we’re not even in overtime if not for him.
“You’ve got to give Ethan a lot of credit. He just shows up every day, works hard and was able to finally knock down a couple of shots. And I know it’s a sigh of relief for him because he works so hard at it.”
Hunter led KWU with 15 points that included four 3-pointers (4 of 5) while Range had 12 points and 11 rebounds for his conference-best 10th double-double.
KWU had 19 turnovers that led to 25 Tabor points but the Bluejays committed 16 turnovers that produced 23 Wesleyan points.
The Coyotes shot 40.6 percent (26 of 64) and were 9 of 20 from the 3-point line. Tabor shot 45.7 percent (32 of 70) and was 5 of 15 from deep. KWU won the rebounding battle 42-36 and had 17 offensive rebounds that led to 16 second chance points.
“You’ve got to give the guys a lot of credit for their fight,” Monson said of his team, “but at the end of the day nobody wants any moral victories here.”
Nashom Carter led Tabor with 19 points and Leon Marcikic had 17 – 15 in the first half.
KWU travels to Bartlesville, Okla., Wednesday to play Oklahoma Wesleyan, starting at about 8 p.m. The Eagles (11-5 overall, 8-4 conference) lost to Southwestern 79-72 Monday in Winfield.