Kansas Wesleyan men’s coach Anthony Monson wasn’t surprised the final four minutes of the Coyotes’ Kansas Conference game against McPherson was a dogfight.
AJ Range (SR/Junction City, Kan.)’s dunk with 4½ minutes left had given KWU a seemingly insurmountable 68-52 lead but things quickly unraveled from there.
The Coyotes managed to prevail in the end, 68-66, but had to withstand two errant 3-point shots by McPherson in the final second Wednesday inside Mabee Arena.
The Coyotes missed their last four shots and committed four turnovers after Range’s dunk, allowing the Bulldogs to rally.
“I feel like I’m living in COVID – you don’t know what the heck’s coming,” Monson said afterwards. “One minute everything’s great, next minute things are bad. All of sudden there’s light at the end of the tunnel, then just when you think you’re going to get out of it something happens and you’ve got to find a way to survive.”
Survive they did and raised their record 5-4 overall, 3-2 in the KCAC, with their second victory in three days after a 20-day COVID-19-related pause. McPherson lost its third consecutive game and fell to 4-3 and 2-3.
“2020 – what can you say?” Monson said. “This game and the way the games have been going just kind of sum up this year.”
Range, KWU’s irrepressible post player, led the way once again with 14 points – 10 in the second half – and grabbed 11 rebounds in notching his conference-best sixth double-double of the season. Tyus Jeffries (JR/Oklahoma City, Okla.) added 11 points and Easton Hunter (FR/Colwich, Kan.) had 10. Nate Leach (SR/Houston, Texas) had another strong game off the bench with eight points, four rebounds and three assists.
Leading 54-50 with 10 minutes left the Coyotes went on a 14-2 surge – Range scoring eight, including two dunks, and Leach tallying five – that gave them the 68-54 advantage.
But McPherson battled back behind Josh Rivers and Jason Okoro, who scored six apiece – Okoro’s basket with 52 seconds left off a KWU turnover making it 68-66.
The Coyotes missed a shot on their next possession but McPherson’s Gage McCoy couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer. Rock Hardison grabbed the rebound for the Bulldogs and called time out with 0.5 seconds left.
Rivers got the ball at top of the circle on the inbounds pass and put up a hurried shot that missed as the horn sounded.
“At the end of the day you’ve got find ways to win some ugly games,” Monson said. “This game got sloppy-ugly. We’ve got to find a way to handle the ball in the press a little bit better and we’ve got to find a way to attack and play to win every single time.
“We took our foot off the gas, we thought it was going to be easy and the next thing we know it’s a two-point game and they’ve got the ball with a chance to win. But we got the stop we needed to and forced a bad shot.”
KWU survived 19 turnovers and was outrebounded 35-31, McPherson snagging 13 offensive rebounds that led to 15-second chance points. Okoro led McPherson with 19 points – 11 in the second half – and Fred Watts had 15 and nine rebounds.
The Coyotes won primarily by shooting 50 percent from the field (27 of 54), including 6 of 16 from deep.
“We got very nervous at the end,” Leach said. “We’re working on our press break now. We’re going to get it fixed and we’ll be more prepared for it in our next game.”
Leach said he and his teammates let up after taking the 16-point lead.
“We played together and we had more energy during that (14-2) stretch,” he said. “A.J. had the two dunks and I made a 3 – we just played with a lot of energy. They came back when we got lackadaisical and just relaxed.”
Leach has become KWU’s super sub. He had nine points and seven rebounds off the bench in Monday’s victory over Ottawa.
“The past few games I hadn’t been playing well so I held myself accountable and helped in the ways that I know I can help,” he said. “The scoring just came naturally.”
Leach said depth is the strength of this year’s team – Monson employing a 10-man rotation.
“That’s the thing about our team – we’re so versatile,” Leach said. “Anybody can check in anytime and get the job done. We go very hard in practice and are very competitive but we always pick each other up and it brings us closer together.”
“Our guys are working hard and we’re learning how to play the game,” he said. “We’re holding them to a high standard and they know that. I think we’re going to get better as the year goes on but we’ve got to take it one game at a time, too.”
The Coyotes play Friends at 7 p.m. Saturday in Mabee Arena in their next outing. The Falcons are 2-7 overall, 2-4 in the KCAC, after losing at Ottawa 87-76 Wednesday.