KWU Men’s Basketball ends playoff drought, tops Avila 78-70

Brayden White (SR/Topeka, Kan.) has been around the Kansas Wesleyan program long enough to fully appreciate what the Coyotes accomplished Monday night.

KWU scored the last nine points of the game and defeated Avila 78-70 in a first-round game of the Kansas Conference Men’s Championship inside Mabee Arena.

Winning a playoff game is scintillating enough but it borders on an historic event considering it was the first postseason victory in four tries for White and the seniors. The Coyotes hadn’t won a postseason game since February 2009, going 0-4, and had lost their first KCAC tournament game each of the last three years – all in Mabee Arena.

“It’s like taking a big load off your back,” said White, KWU’s starting point guard. “Me, A.J. (Range), Nate (Leach), ever since we’ve been here, we’ve lost three straight home tournament games.

“Just getting the first one means a lot especially doing it for coach (Anthony Monson). We know all the time he’s put it and it’s probably been bugging him. So just to get it for him means a lot.”

KWU, the No. 7 seed, advances to the quarterfinals and a game against second-seeded Oklahoma Wesleyan at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Bartlesville, Okla. It was the Coyotes’ fifth consecutive victory and raises their record to 12-13.

Monday’s game was much closer two days after Wesleyan defeated Avila 87-71. The 10th-seeded Eagles rallied from a 39-34 halftime deficit and led by five twice the second half, 59-54 and 61-56 – the second with 7½ minutes left.

Tyree King’s basket gave Avila one final lead, 70-69, with 2:46 left before the Coyotes stomped on the gas pedal. White started it with a three-point play with 1:49 that made it 72-70 and after an Avila turnover Easton Hunter (FR/Colwich, Kan.) hit a runner in the lane for a 74-70 advantage with 1:03 remaining.

White then stole the ball from an Avila player as he drove to the basket, was fouled and made a free throw with 35 seconds left. Following an Avila missed shot White made another free throw with 25.5 seconds left that made it 76-70 and Leach ended it with two more free throws with 11.8 seconds left.

“Coach just told us to keep our focus, keep grinding it out one point at a time, one possession at a time the whole game,” Hunter said.

AJ Range (SR/Junction City, Kan.) led four Coyotes in double figures with 18 points while Hunter had 17, White 13 and Leach 11 as KWU shot a scorching 56.5 percent (24 of 46) including 6 of 13 from deep and 20 of 27 at the foul line.

“Coach preaches death by a thousand cuts,” White said. “We know we might not have the best player on the floor, but we’ve got five that are pretty close to the best. We know any night could be anybody’s number, so we stay together as a team and we keep each other uplifted. You never know whose number’s going to be called that night.”

“Everybody played their role, everybody played together and let’s just keep this rollin’,” said Hunter, who was 3 of 5 beyond the 3-point arc and snagged five rebounds.

Donte’ Simpson had 20 points and Brandon Phillips 18 for Avila (13-12), which shot 46 percent (28 of 61) including 8 of 27 from the 3-point line.

Monson was thrilled with the victory, especially for the older players.

“I credit the guys who’ve been here before,” he said. “It hasn’t gone well for us, let’s be honest – three straight home games in the playoffs and we were 0-3. Those guys took it personally and they really wanted this one tonight and did everything they could to get it and they did it.”

Monson also was pleased from personal standpoint.

“Just to get the monkey off the back, I guess,” he said. “I’m not going to lie to anybody, I know what the history is. We’ve had great regular seasons, put ourselves in position to have home games and we’d come up short three times in a row.

“This was a game where we had to come back and make plays and finish and I couldn’t be prouder of the effort that all those guys gave tonight.”

Monson and White said they’re are ready for another shot at OKWU, which defeated the Coyotes 83-82 January 27 in Bartlesville.

“We owe them one,” said White, who also had four assists and two steals Monday. “I’ve never won down there so there’s a lot of motivation. I don’t want my career to end so we’re going to go out there play hard and stay focused.”

“We’ve got our swagger back,” Monson said. “I think we’re the team that I kind of thought we could be all year and unfortunately we had that massive bump in the road (eight game losing streak).

“Most teams can’t come back from losing eight straight games, that’s not something that’s normal and that’s what makes this team special because it is resilient. We’ve got resilient coaches, resilient players and honestly a resilient school here, too.”