Defense has been a hallmark of Anthony Monson’s basketball program at Kansas Wesleyan.
Saturday night’s game against Bethany was another outstanding defensive effort in the First Bank Kansas Smoky Hill Showdown.
The Coyotes held the Kansas Conference’s leading scorer Justin Jones to eight points and the Swedes to 32.2 percent shooting (19-of-59) as KWU would win 71-57 at Hahn Gym.
“We got back to guarding tonight, we frustrated them all night and that’s kind of been our thing since I’ve been here,” Monson said. “We didn’t want Jones to shoot the 3, we wanted to force him to go inside and put it on the floor. I thought we did a tremendous job on him the whole night, which hats off to Brayden White (JR/Topeka, Kan.) who had to guard him, but we do switch a lot so it becomes a team effort.”
“We didn’t let him settle in and feel comfortable with his shot. We made him work very hard on both ends of the floor.”
The Swedes led 31-29 at the half, but the Coyotes would score the first six points of the second half to take a 35-31 lead with 18:36 left on a bucket by Zay Wilson (SR/Austin, Texas). A bucket by AJ Range (JR/Junction City, Kan.) with 16:56 left gave the Coyotes a 40-34 lead.
Bethany came back to take a 42-41 lead with 12:47 to go, but free throws from James Brooks (SR/Frontenac, Kan.) gave the lead back to the Coyotes.
The lead changed hands several times until Brooks’ bucket with nine minutes left put the Coyotes up for good at 47-46. With the Coyotes leading by a point at 48-47, Peyton Hatter (SO/Andover, Kan.) buried a 3 to spark a 10-2 run by the Coyotes capped by Brendon Ganaway (SR/Houston, Texas)’s free throws put the Coyotes up nine at 58-49 with 4:46 to go.
Bethany was within seven when Brooks buried a huge 3 in the corner to put the Coyotes up 63-53 and Wilson had a monster alley-oop dunk off a pass from Brooks to put the Coyotes up 12 at 65-53 with 1:43 left.
“We found a way to lock in and get some big stops and guys made some big plays,” Monson said. “Peyton Hatter knocks down a huge 3 and Zay Wilson with the exclamation point on the alley-oop. James Brooks knocks down a massive 3 in the clutch. AJ was huge all night. It’s just a sign that the team keeps working and keeps doing things the right way.”
The Swedes never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
“We’ve found a way to settle in a little bit. We didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half, we had a lot of good looks just didn’t knock them down, but Bethany did,” Monson said. “We talked about the 3-point line and that’s where Bethany wants to live. We were a little lackadaisical on some things defensively in the first half, but turned around in the second
The Swedes took a 9-2 lead to start the game, but the Coyotes battled back, tying it at 11-all with 14:53 to go in the opening half on a bucket by Range.
Ganaway gave the Coyotes a 13-11 lead but Bethany came back to take its own 14-13 lead.
Wesleyan had another answer, five straight points by Brooks gave the Coyotes an 18-14 lead with 9:46 to go in the opening half. Bethany responded with a 10-1 run that made it 24-19 with 5:25 to go in the half.
Bethany led by five again at 27-22 when the Coyotes would battle back cutting the difference to two points at the break at 31-29.
The win is the fourth in a row for the Coyotes, who improve to 13-8 overall and 10-6 in the KCAC, have won all four games to start the second half of Kansas Conference play.
“We talked about starting the second round of conference play and taking one game at a time and here we are after game four at 4-0,” Monson said. “We just have to avoid those slumps we got into in the first half.”
After a three game week, the Coyotes are right back into another three game week next week starting with Monday’s exhibition at Fort Hays State, which was postponed from December 15 due to adverse weather. The Coyotes are then back on the road on Wednesday at Avila and next Saturday at Bethel.
“We are going to do things completely different than we normally do (against Fort Hays State). We are going to rest some guys, work on some things,” Monson said. “We are only four games into the second half, with eight left. Then we have road trips first to a place against a team that got us earlier in the year and kind of threw us into a loop and I know our guys are eager to get back on the court.”
Range had another monster game for the Coyotes with 19 points and 14 rebounds, while Brooks added 16 points off the bench and Ganaway had 17, including going 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Ganaway added eight rebounds as KWU outrebounded Bethany 52-40 in the game.