KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas Wesleyan coach Anthony Monson said it best just moments after the Coyotes’ 91-85 Kansas Conference victory over Avila.
“Welcome back James Brooks (SR/Frontenac, Kan.),” Monson said after the senior guard’s stellar performance Wednesday night inside Mabee Fieldhouse in Kansas City, Mo.
Brooks, KWU’s leading scorer last season, had been fighting a season-long shooting slump that resulted in Monson bringing him off the bench the last four games.
Brooks entered the contest shooting 28.8 percent from 3-point range (42 of 146) and averaging 13.0 points, but had shown signs of perhaps breaking loose recently.
Wednesday, he kicked down the proverbial door, scoring a season-high 26 points that included 8 of 12 shooting – all from long range. His timing was equally impressive.
Clinging to an 86-85 lead Brooks buried a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left, then took a charge on the defensive end before capping the night with two free throws with 9 seconds left to seal the deal.
“Eight 3-pointers … we’ll take that,” Monson said on his postgame radio show.
The victory was the fifth in a row for the Coyotes, who improved to 14-8 overall, 11-6 in the KCAC, and avenged an 84-64 loss to Avila on December 2 in Mabee Arena – a game they led 39-28 at halftime.
“This was two teams fighting for their lives,” Monson said. “We’re fighting for (conference tournament) seeding, they’re fighting to get in the playoffs. Down the stretch these home games become really important.”
Brooks scored 15 the first half on 5 of 7 shooting from long range and scored 11 the second half, going 3 of 5 from deep.
His heroics helped KWU overcome a huge offensive night from Avila’s Shandon Boone, who entered the game averaging 21.9 points and scored 37 that included four 3-pointers and 13 of 16 from the foul line. He tallied 25 the second half.
“I thought we did a good job on Boone and all of a sudden he just erupted,” Monson said. “When you’re not fundamentally sound on a guy like that … he put almost 40 on us tonight, hats off to him. That’s a heck of a performance.”
The Coyotes appeared to have things under control the first half, leading by 20 twice – 39-19 and 49-29. The Eagles battled back, though, and trailed 49-35 at halftime, then opened the second half on a 23-8 run that made it 60-58 with just over 13 minutes left.
After another KWU surge Avila got within two again, 77-75, on a Boone basket with 5½ minutes left.
Boone’s last field goal of the game with 1:02 remaining sliced KWU’s lead to 86-85 and set the table for Brooks’ big finish.
“We made shots all night, 15 of 26 from the 3 (point range),” Monson said. “But all of a sudden we got sloppy with (the ball) and they got their hands on balls. I actually thought we were doing a good job getting (defensive) stops and got careless with it. We’ve got to clean that stuff up.”
The Coyotes shot 48.4 percent for the game (30 of 62), including 15 of 26 from deep, and were 16 of 21 at the foul line. They outrebounded Avila 45-27, which helped them overcome 16 turnovers. The Eagles had eight turnovers.
Daekwon Gross (JR/Kansas City, Mo.) scored a season-high 15 points off the bench – 13 the second half – while Peyton Hatter (SO/Andover, Kan.) had 13 and A.J. Range 12 and 14 rebounds. It was his third consecutive double-double and eighth of the season.
“(Gross) was huge and he and A.J. played well off each other,” Monson said. “He gave us the ability to switch some screens and do some different things. He’s been battling that knee injury all year and he’s just kind of off-and-on, hit-and-miss, but man, he was huge down the stretch for us and a big reason why we came away with that win.”
Avila (8-17, 6-11 KCAC) was 15 of 34 from long range and shot 43.8 percent overall (28 of 64). The loss was the Eagles’ 10th loss in their last 11 games.
KWU concludes its three-game road swing with a trip to North Newton on Saturday to play Bethel. The Threshers improved to 16-7 and 11-6 in the KCAC by defeating conference leader Ottawa 75-74 Wednesday in North Newton.