“I’m very thankful that he committed to Kansas Wesleyan,” Monson said.
Hunter has, indeed, been phenomenal since being inserted into the starting lineup but never as good as he was Saturday afternoon. Playing with the moxie and maturity of a fifth-year senior Hunter scored a game- and career-best 22 points in leading KWU to a 94-86 Kansas Conference victory over Sterling at the Gleason Center.
The Coyotes head out for the holiday break with a 7-5 overall record, 5-3 in the KCAC, and have won four of their last five games. They’re idle until January 13, 2021, when they play Southwestern inside Mabee Arena.
Hunter scored 16 the first half as the Coyotes raced to a 52-34 halftime lead then fended off Sterling’s second-half rally that saw the Warriors get within 91-86 with 24 seconds left. KWU hung on by making 3 of 4 free throws the final 16 seconds.
Hunter finished the game 7 of 11 from the field, including 3 of 5 from beyond the arc, and 5 of 7 from the foul line in 30 minutes of play. He’s shooting 53 percent overall (33 of 62) and is 15 of 39 from deep (39 percent).
“He’s just been great,” Monson said. “The thing people don’t realize is he never turns the ball over (four in 12 games). He’s just so Steady Eddie with the ball. I feel great when he’s out there.
“He’s getting better and better and he’s going to be a really, really good player in a Wesleyan uniform for a long time.”
Tyus Jeffries (JR/Oklahoma City, Okla.) scored 16 and Gabe Mack (JR/Milwaukee, Wis.) 11 as KWU shot 55 percent for the game (32 of 58), 6 of 14 from long range. The Coyotes were also 24 of 33 at the foul line, a big improvement after going 9 of 20 in a loss to Avila on Monday.
AJ Range, KWU’s leading scorer, finished with six points and five rebounds before fouling out. He took just two shots for the second game in a row.
“What people don’t realize is when he’s on the floor everybody knows he’s there and he takes a lot of attention even if he doesn’t touch the ball,” Monson said. “He makes an impact whether he’s scoring the ball or not.”
Wesleyan appeared to be out of harm’s way after Trey Gilbert (JR/Holcomb, Kan.)’s 3-pointer made it 71-51 with 11:25 left. Sterling battled back, though, using a 15-5 run to cut the deficit to five late in the game.
“The first half I thought we really executed, made simple plays, moved the ball well,” Monson said. “And we actually guarded really, really well and made things very difficult for them.
“The second half we had poor transition defense the whole half. We couldn’t stop anybody from getting to the rim and we were losing guys down the floor left and right. We did a really poor job of guarding the second half.”
KWU forced 12 Sterling turnovers and scored 19 points off of them the first half but the Warriors had just five turnovers the second 20 minutes.
JaMiah Haynes led Sterling (2-10, 0-9 KCAC) with 19 points and 10 rebounds. The Warriors shot 52.5 percent (31 of 59) and were 20 of 25 at the foul line.
Monson was thrilled to get a victory in the last game of what has been an extraordinary fall semester.
“A win’s a win on the road in this league, it’s a tough thing to do,” he said. “Getting a win before Christmas break just makes everything better, I can promise you that.
“It’s been a long, long semester for everybody – administration, coaches, players, you name it. This break will be good, get us rejuvenated. We’re a game back out of first place in the loss column, we’ve got a lot of things to cheer right now. I’m excited to get back on the court but I’m also excited to have a little bit of a break.”