Peyton Hatter (SO/Andover, Kan.)’s motivation for playing well against the rival Bethany Swedes was twofold: his appetite and his father.
“This is the biggest game we’ve got to win so we get dinner at (KWU President Dr. Matt Thompson’s) house,” Hatter said with a smile. “That’s a big one for me.”
Plus, his dad Christopher had been on him constantly in recent days about keeping his right elbow next to his body when he shoots, initially hearing about it during KWU’s game at Tabor a week earlier
“He told me that after the shot, he told me that after the game, he’s told me all week, he’s called me every day, he called me before the game and told me,” Hatter said, his smile widening. “I’ve had him in my ear pretty much since high school, so I’d say I did it for him. He’s encouraged me to put shots up and work on having my elbow in.”
Father knows best, indeed.
Hatter scored a career-best 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting and grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds in leading Kansas Wesleyan to an 85-71 victory over Kansas Conference arch rival Bethany in the First Bank Kansas Smoky Hill Showdown on Tuesday night at Mabee Arena.
It was the Coyotes’ fourth consecutive victory and raises their record to 7-2 overall, 4-0 in the KCAC.
Hatter, a former Wichita North standout, was terrific from start to finish. He had 12 points and four rebounds the first half and played a crucial role in helping the Coyotes fend off Bethany’s second-half comeback.
Wesleyan led 33-28 at the break and pulled away to a 57-42 lead with just over 10 minutes left. Bethany, though, used a 16-5 run and trailed 62-54 with 6:13 remaining.
Leading 66-60, with 5:11 left, Hatter’s final basket of the night ignited a decisive 9-0 surge that gave the Coyotes a 75-60 advantage with 2½ minutes left. They cruised across the finish line by making 7 of 9 free throws down the stretch.
“This was absolutely huge,” Hatter said of the victory. “I know going into Thanksgiving break we wanted to have momentum, especially coming back with a three-game stretch (next week).
“And the fact we’ve won only home game this year was a big deal for us. We need to show that we can protect the homecourt consistently, especially against Bethany because it’s the biggest game of the year for most people.”
Wesleyan coach Anthony Monson said it was a matter of everything coming together for Hatter.
“Players have that game where things all of a sudden click,” he said. “I think this was that game for Peyton. He’d been playing solid for us, but that 3-ball hadn’t fallen (he was 3 of 6 Tuesday) and that’s actually the best part of his game.
“He got it going early and really kind of carried us that first half and then he came up big the second half. That’s why we recruited him. Peyton’s a talented kid and is only a sophomore and is only going to get better.”
AJ Range, KWU’s starting post player, was equally magnificent, finishing with 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting and also had five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Brendon Ganaway (SR/Houston, Texas) continued his stellar play with 16 points, including 11 of 15 shooting from the foul line.
The Swedes were minus starting big men Lavaris Duncan and Krisjian Joksomovic, who were sidelined with injuries. The Coyotes outscored the Swedes 42-28 in the paint.
“I knew going into the game we’d have an advantage,” Monson said. “I thought we focused solely on that, but it sort of made it where we couldn’t pull away. It got late in the second half and I told my assistants ‘we’re not going to leave this to our guards, we’re going to pound (the ball) down low.’
“That last five-minute stretch it was non-stop plays in the post to A.J. They double (teamed) him and Peyton would flash (open) and finish. They just played really well off each other and it was a lot of fun to see them do it.”
Hatter said his goal was to supplement Range.
“A.J. has been super this year,” he said. “I knew if I step my game up we could easily take over the paint. Coming into this game as long as I did my job I knew A.J. was going to do his. I’m glad to finally found my stride a little bit.”
Monson was pleased that his team regained control after Bethany rallied, but warned that won’t always happen.
“We’ve struggled all year where we go on these runs and look like we’re going to pull away and then we take our foot off the gas,” he said. “We can’t do that, we’ve got to put teams away.
“You want to win a conference championship, but the more you flirt with danger you’re eventually going to get bit. I use the analogy stop ‘playing with your food and just eat it.'”
The Coyotes shot 50 percent from the field (27 of 54), but were just 4 of 20 from beyond the arc. They made 27 of 36 free throw attempts, won the rebounding battle 38-31 and forced 14 turnovers.
Justin Jones and Isiah Saenz scored 16 points apiece for the Swedes, who lost their fourth consecutive game. Bethany (5-4, 1-4 KCAC) shot 42 percent (26 of 62) from the field, including 8 of 33 from long range.
Wesleyans’ first two games next week are at home – Monday against Avila and Thursday against Bethel, both starting at 8 p.m. They travel to Nebraska to play York a week from Saturday.