The Kansas Wesleyan women’s team was seemingly dead in the water in its game against Saint Mary on Wednesday night.
Down three with 30 seconds in left regulation and tied with seven seconds left in overtime the Coyotes – Jill Stephens (SO/Colby, Kan.) and Angel Lee (SO/Grandview, Mo.) to be precise – found ways to first stay alive then ultimately prevail 76-74 in a wild and harrowing Kansas Conference game inside Mabee Arena.
The victory keeps KWU in the chase for second place in the KCAC. The Coyotes are 15-4, half a game behind Bethany (16-4) with a huge matchup against conference leader and No. 21-ranked Sterling up next on Saturday in Sterling.
Wednesday’s lunacy began late in regulation. Down 60-57 Stephens’ 3-pointer from the top of the circle with 29 seconds left tied the game. Saint Mary appeared to secure the upset, though, when Lee fouled Daija Planas and she hit two free throws with two seconds remaining, giving the Spires a 62-60 lead.
Lee atoned for her mistake in the best way possible. After a KWU time out advanced the ball past midcourt Lee was fouled on the inbounds pass under the basket with 1.3 seconds left. She nonchalantly made both free throws to tie it 62-62 and force the extra period.
The fun was just beginning, though. Trailing 72-70 Tylieea Wallace (SO/Overland Park, Kan.) made one of two free throws with 23.9 seconds left. KWU took a 74-72 lead just eight seconds later when Lee stole a pass near midcourt, scored on a layup, was fouled and made the free throw.
USM’s Paige Pendley promptly answered, though, with two game-tying free throws with 7.1 seconds remaining.
The Coyotes raced down the floor on their possession and LaMyah’s Ricks’ contested shot in the lane was partially blocked. Stephens was fouled in the battle for the rebound with 1.4 seconds left and calmly made both foul shots for the game-winning points.
Stephens credited teammate Caila Hill (SR/Rossville, Kan.) on the pivotal 3-pointer.
“She yelled at (Ricks) which brought my defender over to LaMyah and left me open,” she said. “And she had a great pass so I credit Caila for me making that shot. I just had confidence, we practiced it many times so I felt well prepared.”
Stephens and Lee, junior college transfers this season, have played pivotal roles for the Coyotes – Lee as a starter and Stephens off the bench.
“Jill Stephens had an incredible shot and I thought she did a great job,” KWU coach Ryan Showman said. “I thought Angel Lee was awesome. She picked up a foul that put them on the line late but she didn’t let that affect her play.
“That’s the growth I keep talking about in our team, growth as a team and growth as individuals. In October, November that play would have wrecked Angel but she bounced back.”
The game was a see-saw battle from start to finish with 21 lead changes and 16 ties. KWU’s biggest lead was five points in the first half; USM’s four in the first half. The Coyotes were up 36-34 at halftime and the Spires took a 50-47 lead into the fourth quarter.
Wallace led Wesleyan with 18 points and had five rebounds while Stephens finished with 13 points and four rebounds. Lee and Ricks each scored 11, Lee also a team-best six rebounds and Ricks seven steals.
Tanea Sims paced USM (15-10, 11-8 KCAC) with 17 points and seven rebounds.
KWU shot 43.6 percent (24 of 55) and was 5 of 23 from beyond the 3-point arc; Saint Mary shot 44 percent (26 of 59), 6 of 17 from deep.
Turnovers plagued both teams – USM 28 and KWU 27 with each scoring 25 points off the turnovers.
Stephens said the Coyotes stayed the course and stayed together.
“We had each other’s back, we kept each other calm when we most needed it,” she said. “We gave it everything we had.”
“We knew it would be every bit as difficult as this,” he said. “I’m just so proud of this team for staying together and staying united and finding a way to win. We talk about next play mentality because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You can’t let the past affect you.”
Saturday’s contest at Sterling will be a huge challenge. The Warriors are 21-4 overall, 18-1 in the KCAC and have won 11 in a row including a 77-51 victory over Friends on Wednesday.
“I’m excited, I can’t wait,” Showman said. “I’m ready for that challenge and I know our team will be too.”