Hale, Coyotes outlast Ottawa advance to KCAC Semifinals vs Southwestern on Saturday

3/1/2024 | Men’s Basketball | Box Score

Caden Hale’s success shooting the basketball boils down to one simple factor.

“I’m one of those players if I see one shot go in, I’m going to shoot a bunch more shots,” he said.

Several shots have gone in of late, most notably Thursday night in Kansas Wesleyan’s quarterfinal game against Ottawa in the Kansas Conference Tournament. After going 1 of 2 shooting in the first half Hale made his first attempt early in the second half and the flood gates opened.

He scored 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting the final 20 minutes and the Coyotes fended off OU’s late rally in a 75-69 victory inside Mabee Arena.

Second-seeded KWU (22-7) advances to the semifinals and a rematch with third-seeded and No. 9-ranked Southwestern at 7 p.m. Saturday in Mabee Arena. The Moundbuilders (24-4) eliminated sixth-seeded McPherson 93-79 Thursday in Winfield.

Hale, who was 7 of 10 shooting and finished with a team-high 18 points, credited his teammates for helping him succeed.

“They always give me confidence coming off the bench,” he said. “We had other guys on the bench that stepped up and I knew towards the end it was my time.

“Don’t know if I’m coming back next year yet so I’m just going out there with the ‘going to have fun mentality’ at this point.”

Four other Coyotes also scored in double figures. Jun Murdock had 14 and five assists, Alex Littlejohn 12 and 14 rebounds and Thurbil Bile and Izaiah Hale scored 10 each. Bile also had seven rebounds, five assists and four blocks.

“Hitting his first shot is the recipe for success,” KWU coach Anthony Monson said of Hale. “Guys, especially guards, see that ball go in the basket and it’s a comfort deal.

“A guy like Alex knows he’s going to play a lot and knows he has unlimited opportunities. Caden knows he sometimes has got limited opportunities and he made the most of them tonight. … Hats off to him for being ready to go.”

KWU defeated Ottawa (16-13) the third time this season but it was not easy. The Coyotes led 36-33 at halftime and opened the second with a 16-7 run that made it 52-40 with 13:40 left.

They seemed to have things under control leading 73-60 with 3:25 remaining but the Braves made it interesting with a 9-0 surge and trailed 73-69 with 56.6 seconds left.

Bile’s dunk with 39.3 seconds left after KWU broke through Ottawa’s full-court pressure stopped the bleeding and were the game’s final two points.

OU missed its last five shots, and the Coyotes couldn’t connect on the front end of three one-and-one free throw chances the final 1:37.

Monson’s pointed to his team’s work on the defensive end as the key in the second half.

“(Jayden) Hibbitt only scored five points in the second half and he had nine at halftime,” he said. “(Deondre) Buggage was 9 for 26 (shooting) and that’s the recipe with high-volume scorers. You don’t necessarily slow them down; you just want to find ways to make them work and I thought we did a good job of that.”

Monson was not pleased with his team’s effort in the first half.

“We challenged our guys pretty well at halftime,” he said. “We were being a little lackadaisical. There were a couple of sets they ran especially on inbounds plays where they actually just walked through us after we fell asleep.”

Hale said everything the Coyotes’ do is predicated on their defense.

“When we get stops and are able to run, get some easy buckets it gives us a lot of momentum,” he said. “We’re at our best when we’re scoring in transition. In playoff basketball it’s hard to run halfcourt sets and survive.”

KWU shot 51.6 percent the second half (16 of 31) and 47.7 percent for the game (31 of 65) including 7 of 21 from long distance. Ottawa shot 39.2 percent for the game (29 of 74). Buggage led the Braves with 21 points followed by Hibbitt’s 14.

The Coyotes will be seeking their third victory this season over Southwestern on Saturday but know it won’t be easy.

“We don’t like them, they don’t like us,” Hale said. “It’s a good matchup, we always have fun playing them. We need to play with the confidence that we usually play with.”

“It’s two really good teams, two (NAIA) national tournament teams going head-to-head,” Monson said. “We’ve just got to find a way to be one point better.”

The winner advances to the championship game Monday night inside Hartman Arena in Park City.