Kansas Wesleyan coach Anthony Monson was thrilled with the outcome – a 62-45 Kansas Conference victory over Avila.
How the No. 13 Coyotes did it, though, was a different matter.
“I would categorize this as the ugliest 17-point win I think I’ve ever seen,” he said following the game Saturday night inside Mabee Arena.
KWU improved to 20-2 with its third consecutive victory and is 14-2 in the KCAC.
“I told guys after the game we’re not celebrating the win, we’re celebrating 20 wins,” Monson said, “and that’s a huge accomplishment for this program.”
Plain and simple, the Coyotes won the game at the defensive end of the court. They limited Avila to a frigid 25.4 percent shooting (16 of 63) and forced 17 turnovers that led to 11 points.
“We were locked in defensively, we had a good game plan,” Monson said. “We understood what they were going to do, they run some very patterned offensive stuff. Having that bye (last Thursday) and having some time to prepare for some of that, I thought we did a really good. That was a big reason why we won the game because it sure wasn’t at the offensive end.”
Indeed, KWU did just enough to win the game and it wasn’t handsome. The Coyotes shot 35.6 percent (21 of 59) including 5 of 23 beyond the 3-point arc.
Alex Littlejohn (SO/Newton, Kan.) and Cory Kaplan (JR/Merritt Island, Fla.) scored 14 points apiece and Tyus Jeffries (SR/Oklahoma City, Okla.) added 10 off the bench. Littlejohn also grabbed 16 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season.
Littlejohn agreed with his coach’s assessment of the game.
“We came out and were pretty dead, a lack of energy at the start,” he said. “That kind of set the tone for the game. But we scrapped out a win and that’s all that matters.”
Littlejohn also credited the defense. Donte’ Simpson led Avila (5-17, 4-13 KCAC) with 12 points but was the only Eagle to reach double figures.
“That’s what wins games,” Littlejohn said. “It starts on the defensive end, that’s how we get our runouts and all of our offensive stuff. Defense is the whole thing for us and has been since day one.”
Littlejohn said his run of double-doubles starts with rebounding.
“Getting rebounds is the big thing, offensive and defensive,” he said. “Just going hard, trying to get rebounds and it doesn’t matter how many I end up with.”
Wesleyan took control late in the first half. Tied at 15 with 5½ minutes left before intermission the Coyotes finished on a 18-4 run and led 33-19 at the break – Kaplan scoring eight straight at one point that included back-to-back 3-pointers.
Avila got no closer than 10 twice in the second half – the second time 47-37 with just over eight minutes left. The Coyotes led by as many as 19, 60-41 with 3:29 remaining.
The offense never seemed to find its rhythm, though.
“Not to take anything away from Avila but we were our own worst enemies all night,” Monson said. “Dropping passes, not finishing stuff at the rim and waiting for the double team to get to us before wanting to make a move and then trying to dribble through it.
“We wanted it to be a little more free-flowing and easy. They do a good job of kind of mucking it up and slowing the game down and we didn’t adjust very well.”
Getting to 20 victories was a goal according to Littlejohn.
“It means a lot because we’re working our butts off,” he said. “We knew the season is getting kind of short and were taking one game at a time, win by win and if we got 20 wins it would be big for us.”
Monson appreciated his team’s perseverance.
“Every night’s going to be a battle, every night’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the big ones but sometimes it’s these little ones that you’ve really got to grind out and that’s what we did tonight.”
The Coyotes go back on the road next week for games against Oklahoma Wesleyan and Ottawa before playing three of their last four at home.
They play a “big one” Wednesday when they travel to Bartlesville, Okla. for an 8 p.m. contest against No. 2 OKWU (20-2, 15-2). The Eagles ended a two-game losing streak Saturday with an 84-59 victory over Friends in Wichita.
KWU goes to Ottawa (10-12, 7-9) for a 7 p.m. game next Saturday.