In a game that featured more twists and turns than an Ozark mountain road the difference was Jun Murdock (JR/Wichita, Kan.) and the fact he plays for Kansas Wesleyan.
Murdock, KWU’s irrepressible All-American point guard, rescued the Coyotes twice in crunch time Wednesday night in their Kansas Conference game against Ottawa.
His two free throws with 23.3 seconds left in regulation tied the game that ultimately went to overtime and his driving layup with 16 seconds left in the extra period proved to be the winning basket in Wesleyan’s heart-stopping 78-77 victory inside Mabee Arena.
A 7-0 run in the final 2½ minutes of regulation gave the Braves a 74-72 lead with 35 seconds left before Murdock’s two free throws tied it. Ottawa’s Deondra Buggage, closely guarded by Murdock, missed a 3-point shot at the other end. Buggage’s teammate Ian Moore grabbed the offensive rebounds but stepped out of bounds with 2.6 seconds left. Alex Littlejohn (SO/Newton, Kan.)’s 40-foot shot at the buzzer glanced off the side of the rim.
Ottawa took a 77-76 lead on a free throw by Amil Fields with 30.1 seconds left in overtime but Murdock was on deck. After a timeout he drove to the basket from the right wing and scored in traffic.
Buggage then missed another shot with Murdock closely guarding him once again. Fields, though, snagged the rebound but his follow shot missed rolled off the front of the rim. A mad scramble for the loose ball ensued with Fields and KWU’s Easton Hunter (JR/Colwich, Kan.) battling for possession on the floor as time ran out.
“In a close game you put your best players in the best position to make plays and that’s what we did and he came through,” KWU coach Anthony Monson said of Murdock. “Not just on that (final) play, he came through for us right before overtime when he got to the rim and knocked down those two free throws.
“That’s what your best players need to do, step up in the biggest moments. Not only that, they relish it and I think he relished that moment.”
Murdock, who had a game-best 20 points and eight rebounds, said he simply did what needed to be one.
“I saw a lane (to the basket) so I just drove,” he said. “They had confidence in me so I just took the shot. That last play felt like it took forever. They were tipping the ball around; I’m glad Easton fell on it. I was waiting for the buzzer to go off and I finally looked at the clock and it said zero.”
Monson said Murdock’s work on the defensive end was equally important.
“I don’t know how I’m going to replace that when he’s no longer here,” he said. “Jun Murdock is one of the best defenders in the league and you don’t realize it unless you watch him guard on an individual basis. … When he needs to, he just shuts down a guy. It didn’t matter who we put him on he answers the bell every single time and he doesn’t flinch.”
Murdock’s heroics allowed the Coyotes (8-1 overall, 5-1 KCAC) to avoid what would have been a devastating loss. They blitzed the Braves at the start racing to a 23-1 lead in the first seven minutes and had a seemingly comfortable 43-28 lead at halftime, but trouble was already brewing. The Braves ended the half on an 8-2 run and steadily closed the gap in the second half.
“I knew once we gave up those eight points the last two minutes of the first half we gave them life,” Monson said. “Not much but enough that they were still breathing. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit, they just kept coming and kept coming.”
“I think it was just a lack of focus on defense,” Murdock said. “We were locked in at first getting stops, getting runouts. Once we started lacking on defense that’s when they started on their run. Late in the second half and overtime started guarding them again.”
Littlejohn had another monstrous game finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds – his sixth double-double of the season. Thurbil Bile (JR/Centennial, Colo.) also had a big night with 10 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and three steals before fouling out with 30 seconds left in overtime.
KWU shot 43 percent (31 of 72) but was just 4 of 19 from beyond the 3-point arc. Ottawa shot 41 percent (27 of 66), 6 of 13 from deep. The Coyotes on the rebounding battle 48-37 but committed 19 turnovers.
Ty Bland led Ottawa (5-7, 2-5 KCAC) with 16 points off the bench while Buggage finished with 14.
KWU plays Saint Mary at 7 p.m. Saturday in Leavenworth. The Spires (4-8, 0-6 KCAC) lost to Friends 77-63 Wednesday in Wichita and have lost six in a row.