Kansas Wesleyan basketball coach Anthony Monson didn’t want a repeat of last season when the Coyotes’ non-conference game against Dakota State on January 1, 2022 in Madison, S.D. was cancelled because of weather concerns.
It was supposed to be a warmup for the Coyotes after a lengthy holiday break but instead they had to go directly into Kansas Conference play. The results were not kind as they lost their first three games.
The weather cooperated this year, though, and No. 21-ranked Wesleyan got to play a non-league opponent before resuming on KCAC play next week. And what a game it was against Columbia College (Mo.) Saturday afternoon.
Four Coyotes scored in double figures and KWU withstood the Cougars’ frantic comeback in a 91-85 victory inside Mabee Arena.
“Last year we didn’t have this tune-up game and I thought that really hurt us,” Monson said. “Now we’ve got some film to watch, we can work on some things we saw against a good team.”
Saturday’s win was the 112th in Monson’s head coaching career, moving him past Ken Cochran on the KWU men’s all-time wins list. He is now tied with Alexander Brown Mackie for second on the all-time list, but still needs 112 wins to catch all-time wins leader Jerry Jones, who amassed 224 wins in his 17 seasons leading the Coyotes.
Leading 40-37 at halftime the Coyotes (13-1) opened the second half with a 17-4 run and eventually led by as many as 19 points (70-51) with 11 minutes left. Columbia (11-5) wouldn’t go quietly, though.
A 15-4 burst narrowed the KWU lead to 76-66 with 7½ minutes left. The Cougars kept coming and got within six (88-82) with 35.6 seconds left before the Coyotes made three of four free throws and closed it out.
“That’s the best non-conference team we played all year,” Monson said. “They’re tough, they’re hard to guard, they’re big, they’re strong, they can shoot it a little bit. They had some guys who don’t typically score very well for them score tonight and made it even tougher on us.”
Jun Murdock (JR/Wichita, Kan.) and Cory Kaplan (JR/Merritt Island, Fla.) led KWU with 18 points apiece while Alex Littlejohn (SO/Newton, Kan.) had 17 and Trey Duffey (JR/Topeka, Kan.) 14 off the bench. Littlejohn also had a team-best seven rebounds and Duffey six.
The Coyotes were 12 of 26 from 3-point range – Littlejohn with four and Murdock three – and shot 47.5 percent overall (28 of 59). They were also 23 of 32 from the foul line.
“We went hard all this week since we’ve been back and just focused on playing hard and trusting each other,” said Kaplan, who was 6 of 14 shooting including 2 of 5 from deep. “We got out there and did just that. Honestly it was a really fun game to play.”
Monson was especially pleased with Kaplan’s effort.
“It was good to see Cory finally get going a little bit,” he said. “He didn’t have a very good first semester, he knows it and we don’t shy away from it. He’s a good player and he can really do some things. He’s a matchup nightmare when he’s rolling. Hopefully this is a good sign for us.”
Kaplan said the game will benefit the Coyotes heading into conference play, which resumes against Tabor at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Hillsboro.
“Last year it was totally the opposite of this,” he said, “so it was really good to come in here and get a win and feel good about it.”
Kaplan said defense spurred the early second half run.
“At halftime we talked about stops and that would open up our offense,” he said. “We focused on trying to get out and run after they couldn’t get a bucket.”
Columbia rode the scoring of guard Tony Burks, who had 28 points, and forward Collin Parker, who had 23. The Cougars shot 48 percent (31 of 64) including 7 of 17 from deep and won the rebounding battle 38-34.
“When you play a good team it’s hard to keep them down in a hole,” Monson said, “especially when they’ve got a guy like Tony Burks who’s been the player of the year in their league.
“They’re a good team and that’s a good win for us.”