LEAVENWORTH – An outstanding second half effort from the Kansas Wesleyan men’s basketball team helped the Coyotes end a three-game losing streak as KWU topped the Saint Mary Spires 75-60 on Wednesday night at the Ryan Sports Center.
The Coyotes led by three at the half, but led twice by seven in the final two minutes of the opening stanza but couldn’t find the open door to pull away.
Head coach Anthony Monson rallied the troops at the half.
“The message at halftime was just that we weren’t keeping focused through the whole possession,” he said. “We’d get 25 seconds in and just kind of fall asleep and let them make things happen. I thought in the second half we did a much better job of staying focused the entire possession.”
A quick start from the Coyotes to open the half helped too. Wesleyan got a bucket by AJ Range (JR/Junction City, Kan.), and a pair of 3-pointers from James Brooks (SR/Frontenac, Kan.) and Brayden White (JR/Topeka, Kan.) to put the Coyotes up 11, 38-27, just over a minute into the second.
“It was just about making plays,” Monson said. “Sometimes you just gotta work through it and you just have to keep the guys going and keep them encouraged and keep everything positive even when it isn’t going well and just keep them moving forward.”
Another triple by Brooks with 9:44 left put the Coyotes up 16 and free throws by Daekwon Gross (JR/Kansas City, Mo.), who returned after missing the last couple games with injury, and a bucket by Zay Wilson (SR/Austin, Texas) put the Coyotes up 20, at 64-44 with 9:08 left.
“We did a good job of finding open spots in the lane and we capitalized on it,” Monson said. “Zay had a big night, so did AJ and having Daekown back was huge.”
Wesleyan’s led grew to as much as 23 points at 75-52 with 1:19 left before Saint Mary cut the difference to 15, mostly against the Coyote reserves.
The first half was a battle back and forth. The Coyotes built the first lead at 6-2 on free throws by Range, but Saint Mary came back to take a 9-8 lead with 11:58 to go in the first.
Four straight points by Range broke a 13-all tie and gave KWU a four-point cushion with 5:56 left in the half.
The Spires cut it to one at 19-18 before six straight by the Coyotes gave KWU a 25-18 lead and KWU led again by seven with 33 seconds left before Saint Mary got a four-point play by Jaylon Rucker just before the half to cut the intermission difference to three at 30-27.
“I told the guys I am proud of them,” Monson said. “Because wins in this league especially on the road aren’t easy and to enjoy this one tonight.”
Range had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds and shared top scoring honors with Brooks. Gross added 11 off the bench and Wilson had 10 as KWU shot 50 percent (28-of-56) for the game, which included a blistering 56.7 percent in the second half. KWU also dominated the boards 45-30 over the Spires.
Wesleyan wraps the first semester of play on Saturday, hosting Southwestern at 7 p.m. at Mabee Arena. The Coyotes then close out the semester with an exhibition at Fort Hays State on Sunday at 4 p.m. in Hays.