James Brooks (SR/Frontenac, Kan.) was of the belief it was the last college basketball game he’d play inside Kansas Wesleyan’s Mabee Arena and wanted to give his best effort on Senior Night.
He did just that, scoring 21 points and leading the Coyotes to a 78-64 Kansas Conference upset of No. 14 Oklahoma Wesleyan on Saturday night in their regular-season finale.
Unbeknownst to Brooks, his teammates and coaches immediately after the game, it was not their last home contest. The victory, couple with outcome of other games Saturday, stunningly thrust KWU into a three-way tie for fourth in the final conference standings. KWU entered the night tied for sixth with Bethel in the standings.
After a series of tiebreakers were unraveled the Coyotes emerged as the No. 4 seed in next week’s conference tournament and will play fifth-seeded McPherson in a quarterfinal game at 7 p.m. Thursday – in Mabee Arena. KWU and McPherson split during the regular season, each winning at home.
Semifinal games will be played next Saturday at the site of the higher seeded teams and the championship game will be played March 2 at Hartman Arena in Park City.
“I was little extra motivated,” said Brooks, who was of four seniors who was recognized before the game along with Brendon Ganaway (SR/Houston, Texas), Andre Harris (SR/Sioux City, Iowa) and Zay Wilson (SR/Austin, Texas). “It was our last regular-season game and we wanted to go into the tournament with some momentum. We really just buckled down and did what we had to do.
“We played a little bit differently defensively tonight and I think that ended up motivating us more because it made us work harder.”
KWU Coach Anthony Monson said his team played to its capabilities.
“This is a talented bunch,” he said of his team that’s 18-11 overall and 15-9 in the KCAC. “They’ve had their ups and downs, but at the end of the day they’ve got 18 wins – the most wins this program has had since 2007.
“The hard part is we wanted more. Now we have a second chance, we’ve just got to win three games (to get to the NAIA Division II National Championship). They delivered a statement tonight that we can beat anybody we want.”
The game itself was anything but conventional. KWU scored the first 14 points as OKWU missed its first 15 shots. The Eagles didn’t get on the scoreboard until the 12:49 mark, but trailed just 37-30 at halftime.
OKWU kept chipping away and drew even, 54-54, on three Brooks Haddock free throws with 7:54 left in the game.
The Coyotes refused to fold, though.
Clinging to a 61-58 lead with 2½ minutes left they embarked on a decisive 11-0 run that gave them a 72-58 lead with 35 seconds left – Brooks, Ganaway and A.J Range accounting for all 11 points.
“We were just saying ‘stay calm,'” Brooks said. “Falling apart wasn’t going to do us any good so stay calm, get stops at the defensive end. Once we got some stops we got some good looks (at the basket on offense) and went from there.”
Range finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season while Ganaway had 13 points and seven assists. Brooks also had six rebounds and three assists.
Miles Koehler (SO/Athens, Texas), who played mostly junior varsity this season, came off the bench and made back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in the first half that gave KWU a 33-21 lead with 3½ minutes before the break.
The Coyotes also got it done defensively and rebounded well. They limited OKWU to 32 percent shooting (23 of 72) and won the rebounding battle 44-36. The Eagles entered the game averaging 86.6 points and 14 more rebounds than their opponents.
“We went simple, sort of old-school basketball – just stay in your face,” Monson said of the defensive change. “It got us going offensively a lot better. Their press didn’t bother us tonight and I thought we did a good job on the glass, for the most part.
“We just battled and were the tougher team for most of the game.”
Austin Poling and Valentin Van Putten led OKWU (22-8, 17-7 KCAC) with 13 points apiece. The loss was damaging for the Eagles, who slipped to the third seed in the tournament behind Ottawa and Southwestern and plays No. 6 Friends on Wednesday in Bartlesville, Okla.
Immediately after the game Monson said the location of the Coyotes’ next game didn’t matter to him.
“As long as we keep playing I really don’t care where we’re playing,” he said. “That’s the message going forward now. Just go give the best effort you can and we’ll see what the scorebook says at the end of the day.”