NORTH NEWTON – It took the 17th-ranked Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes precisely 23 minutes, 13 seconds to shake the hangover from Wednesday’s road loss to rival Bethany.
Trailing Bethel 39-34 early in the second half Saturday night Cory Kaplan (JR/Merritt Island, Fla.) made a 3-point field goal with 16:47 left in the game. It cut the deficit to 39-37 but more importantly heralded the beginning a dazzling, game-changing surge.
The Coyotes scored 23 of the next 26 points after Kaplan’s triple and quickly pulled away for a 79-62 Kansas Conference victory inside Thresher Gymnasium. Overall, KWU’s closing blitz was 45-23 and 50-29 the second half.
Wesleyan improved to 18-2 on the season, 12-2 in the KCAC, and is in sole possession of second place in the standings behind Oklahoma Wesleyan following Southwestern’s loss to Ottawa on Saturday in Ottawa. Bethel fell to 10-8 and 8-5.
Kaplan finished with a game-best 19 points, 15 in the second half. Easton Hunter (JR/Colwich, Kan.) had 15 for the game, all in the final 16:19 of the second half, while Alex Littlejohn (SO/Newton, Kan.) and Thurbile Bile each scored 12. Littlejohn scored 10 the second half and also grabbed 13 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season.
The Coyotes shot a sizzling 63 percent from the field the second half (17 of 27) including 6 of 1 from 3-point range (54.5 percent). Overall, they were 51 percent for the game (28 of 55) and 8 of 20 from the 3-point arc – Hunter and Kaplan with three 3-pointers apiece.
Hunter scored six, Kaplan five and KWU shot 27.6 percent as a team in the loss to Bethany.
The Coyotes were equally efficient on the defensive end of the floor limiting Bethel to 37.3 percent shooting (25 of 67), 7 of 21 beyond the arc. Javen Hutton paced the Threshers with 12 points, 10 in the first half, while Clifford Byrd II and Jaylin Todd finished with 10 each.
KWU won the rebounding battle 39-35 led by Littlejohn; Bile and Kaplan each snagged seven.
Wesleyan appeared to have things under control in the first half leading 23-15 with 7½ minutes left before intermission. Bethel, though, closed the half on a 15-6 burst to gain the four-point advantage at the break.
A Kaplan 3-pointer gave KWU a 34-33 lead with 19:17 left in the game but Bethel scored the next six before the Coyotes’ onslaught began.
The victory gave Wesleyan a sweep of the regular-season series with Bethel after the Coyotes won 77-58 November 19 inside Mabee Arena.
Game four of KWU’s four-game road trip will be against Friends at 8 p.m. Monday in Wichita. The Coyotes return home Saturday for a 7 p.m. contest against Avila inside Mabee Arena before two more road games at Oklahoma Wesleyan on February 1 and Ottawa on February 4.