WICHITA – Anthony Monson and his Kansas Wesleyan men’s basketball team were steadfastly determined to avoid a repeat of what happened January 10 inside Mabee Arena when Friends made 13 3-point shots and departed with a 12-point victory.
The Coyotes did just that in the rematch Saturday night. The Falcons were 3 of 9 beyond arc against KWU’s perimeter defense and the Coyotes forced 17 turnovers en route to a 63-56 Kansas Conference victory in the Garvey Center.
Wesleyan is the No. 5 seed and plays Tabor at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Mabee Arena in the first round of the KCAC tournament. The Coyotes swept the Bluejays during the regular season.
Saturday’s victory was the 20th of the season (20-9) – the first time a KWU men’s team has reached the 20-win plateau since the 2006-07 season when the Coyotes finished 28-4 and played in the NAIA Division II national tournament.
Friends was 13 of 31 beyond the arc in the first game led by Drew Patterson who was 6 of 8 and scored 27 points. He was 1 of 3 from deep and had three points Saturday.
“We didn’t want them to shoot the 3, our goal all night was no 3-point shots,” Monson said on his postgame radio show. “That was what beat us last time and we weren’t going to let that beat us this time. We went with a smaller lineup and just kind of matched them.”
Conversely it was KWU that had the hot hand from long range making 9 of 27 3-pointers and led by Easton Hunter (FR/Colwich, Kan.), who was 5 of 10 and finished with 16 points along with Jun Murdock (SO/Wichita, Kan.), who also had seven assists and four rebounds. It Murdock’s his first game against the Falcons in Wichita since transferring to Wesleyan after the 2019-20 season.
The Coyotes shot 39 percent overall (24 of 61), were 6 of 14 at the free throw line and were outrebounded 41-30 but had just eight turnovers. The most important statistic for Monson, though, was the 20th victory. KWU got there by winning six of its last eight games.
“I really, really wanted this bad. I’m not going to lie” he said. “We went through a little rough spell there coming out of Christmas break and they were able to turn it around. We’ve got 20 wins, we’re at single-digit losses right now and now we get to go into the (KCAC) tournament and see if we can make some noise there and get some more wins.”
Things didn’t look hopeful early when Friends went on a 13-2 run and led 19-10 with 12:39 left in the half. The Coyotes responded by outscoring the Falcons 18-8 the rest of the way and led 28-27 at intermission.
An 8-2 surge gave KWU at 54-45 lead with just under six minutes left but Friends answered with an 11-3 run and trailed 57-56 with 2:28 left in the game. The Coyotes, though, scored the game’s final six points on baskets by Murdock, Cory Kaplan (SO/Merritt Island, Fla.) and Tyus Jeffries (SR/Oklahoma City, Okla.).
Kaplan and Alex Littlejohn (FR/Newton, Kan.) scored nine apiece. Littlejohn also had five rebounds and three blocks and AJ Range (SR/Junction City, Kan.) grabbed nine rebounds to go along with five points.
“I thought we left a lot of points on the board tonight,” Monson said. “Our free throw shooting wasn’t great, we missed bunnies around the basket when we could have really put some distance between us.
“The hardest thing to do is finish and the hardest thing to do is focus – that’s something we haven’t really been able to do. We were able to withstand some runs, we got down early twice and we found a way to close tonight. I think that’s a good sign for us moving forward in the tournament.”
Tim Barberi had 13 points and Ian Konek 11 for Friends (11-19, 10-14 KCAC), which shot shot 44 percent (21 of 48).