The Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes weren’t about to let another halftime lead evaporate in the second half. A three-game losing streak a week earlier, in which they couldn’t close games after leading at the break, was more than enough.
They led Southwestern by eight at halftime Saturday night, but the Moundbuilders rallied and got within two early in the second half. This time, though, instead of succumbing to the pressure, the Coyotes responded in resounding fashion.
A 17-7 run turned the game back in their favor and they continued to pull away for an 86-73 Kansas Conference victory at Mabee Arena.
The victory, their second of the week after the three-game skid, sends KWU into the holiday break with a 9-5 overall and 6-3 in the KCAC. Southwestern, which had won four in a row, fell to 8-5 and 4-5.
The difference Saturday was simple – this time, as they did Wednesday in their victory over Saint Mary, they made some shots the final 20 minutes. The Coyotes outscored Southwestern 46-41 the second half and shot 50 percent from the field (14 of 28).
“That week we lost three straight we couldn’t get the lid (off the basket) the second half at all,” center A.J. Range said. “It was great seeing the ball go in, especially for James (Brooks), and for us in general.”
Range was the ringleader, scoring 18 points and tying a career high with 13 rebounds – a mark he set Wednesday against Saint Mary. He had a perfect shooting night – 6 of 6 from the field and 6 of 6 at the free throw line.
Sharp-shooting guard Dylan Hahn (FR/Yukon, Okla.) scored 15 off the bench, 10 the second half, while Brooks had 12, including three 3-pointers, and Brendon Ganaway (SR/Houston, Texas) scored 11. KWU shot 49.2 percent for the game 30 of 61) and made 20 of 28 free throws.
Range said the secret is believing shots will go in.
“(Coach Anthony) Monson always preaches confidence, have confidence in your shot no matter what,” he said. “And that translates to the defensive side.”
“I’m really extremely proud,” Monson said. “I asked them the question before the game and at halftime ‘are we a mediocre KCAC team or are we a team that wants to compete for a championship?’ If you’re a championship-level team you find a way to win these games against a very hot team that came in with a lot of momentum.”
Hahn was the main man during the pivotal run, scoring all 10 of his second half points that included two 3-pointers.
“Before the season started we knew Dylan was one of a kind, he can shoot the ball,” Range said. “Just to see it go in for him really feels great because he’s one of my best friends here and was it was great to see him dialed in like that. He’s going to be a great player.”
“I told him it’s about bleep time,” Monson said of Hahn, with a smile. “I know he’s going to be really good, he’s got that sweet buttery stroke and he just needs something to go in. He looked like a seasoned vet out there.”
Monson said Range is living up to his expectations.
“I get mad because I don’t think he grabs enough boards,” he said. “He’s just a man among boys. Sometimes he gets in trouble because he’s a little too physical,but there are some floppers and they know he wants to bang, so they set him up for that.
“He needs to be smart enough not to bait into that, but he did a really good job tonight just making plays and getting some big offensive boards down the stretch. He’s one of the best big (men) in the league and he shows it night in and night out just by his effort.”
Monson also praised the play of his reserves, who accounted for 30 points. Savian Edwards (FR/Topeka, Kan.) added eight points, five assists and three rebounds off the bench.
“The bench was better tonight, the freshmen are starting to figure it out a little bit – we’re getting more and more comfortable,” he said. “I thought at times offensively we were dissecting them with our patience with our ability to constantly get in the lane and curl in the lane and make plays happen.”
KWU outscored the Moundbuilders 44-22 in the paint.
Southwestern trailed 40-32 at halftime, but got with 44-42 with 15:48 left. The Coyotes were clinging to a 48-44 lead when Brooks buried a 3-pointer that ignited the 17-7 burst. Hahn accounted for 10 of the next 12 points.
One of the keys to keeping Southwestern at bay was making free throws late in the game. KWU was 15 of 19 from the line the second half, 11 of 13 the final 5:16.
Defensively, the Coyotes limited Southwestern to 39 percent shooting (25 of 64) and forced 17 turnovers that led to 23 points while committing just nine turnovers themselves.
Andrew Hamm led the Moundbuilders with 22 points while Geoff Salas had 17 off the bench and Jarehn White scored 16.
KWU is scheduled to play an exhibition game against Fort Hays State at 4 p.m. Sunday in Gross Coliseum in Hays – weather permitting. A decision on whether the game will be played will be made Sunday morning.
The Coyotes resume conference play January 4 against McPherson in McPherson, starting at 7 p.m.