The thrill the Kansas Wesleyan men felt following their victory over York Saturday night was surpassed only by the immense sense of relief it brought after eight consecutive losses.
Easton Hunter (FR/Colwich, Kan.) led four players in double figures with 20 points and KWU played one of its best defensive games of the season en route to a dominant 85-58 Kansas Conference victory inside Mabee Arena.
The Coyotes improved to 8-13 overall, 6-11 in conference, by winning for the first time in 2021 – their last victory being December 19 against Sterling. Compounding matters was the fact the eight losses were by a combined 34 points.
“Man, we haven’t felt this since before Christmas,” said Hunter, who had another impressive outing that included six more 3-pointers (6 of 11 shooting). “It feels great, we’re celebrating. It’s a lot of fun.”
His coach Anthony Monson agreed.
“This is something that I don’t think any of us have ever been through,” he said. “I know I haven’t been through something like this, I know a lot of the guys on the team haven’t been through stuff like this.
“You keep wondering surely it can’t keep going that way, but it seemed like it was going that way. You get humbled and you realize that you don’t want to take anything for granted – even wins.”
Monson said the last few weeks hadn’t been much fun.
“We had some tough conversations and hard times but I’m just really happy and thankful for what they did tonight and finally ending that streak,” he said.
The Coyotes didn’t just end the streak, they obliterated it.
Micah Lovett (FR/Tulsa, Okla.)’s basket with 17:05 left in the first half gave the Coyotes the lead for good, 4-2, and they never looked back.
After bolting to an 18-8 lead at the start York got within 24-23 with 5:20 left in the half. But KWU scored the next nine points, led 35-26 halftime and scored nine of the first 11 points of the second half.
The Panthers got as close as 14 (49-35) the final 20 minutes but Wesleyan ended the suspense with a 14-4 surge that made it 62-39 with 9 minutes remaining.
Monson altered the starting lineup, inserting backup center Trey Duffey (SO/Topeka, Kan.) along with regular center player AJ Range (SR/Junction City, Kan.). Duffey responded with 14 points and nine rebounds.
“We’ve been struggling with energy and Trey Duffey‘s been our energy guy,” Monson said. “Every time we’ve put him in the game, we’ve started to make a comeback and we’ve been getting off to slow starts.
“I know it’s not the best matchup – two (centers) in there at the same time. But with Duff’s energy and he and A.J. feeding off each other tonight, for the first time we didn’t get off to a bad start.”
“Trey brings energy every day,” Hunter said. “Every day of the week he’s just super energetic and it’s a big difference.”
Gabe Mack (JR/Milwaukee, Wis.) scored 18 on 7 of 11 shooting while Range had 16 points and 16 rebounds – his 11th double-double of the season. KWU finished with 22 assists on 33 made field goals.
The Coyotes had one of their best shooting performances – 33 of 65 (51 percent) that included 12 of 28 beyond the arc (43 percent). They outscored York 36-16 in the paint and won the rebounding battle 42-25.
“Guys just played within what they do,” Monson said. “We played four guys 30-some minutes (Range, Duffey, Hunter, Mack) and we might have to do that any given night. I thought they did a great job, I thought they played extremely hard. I’m just proud of them for not giving up.”
“We’re trying to get right guys in the right positions and just move the ball,” Hunter said. “We played together and played our roles.”
Defensively KWU scored 22 points off of 16 York turnovers and limited the Panthers to 38.6 percent shooting (22 of 57). Keyaun Hoskin scored 20 but was the only Panther in double figures.
“We’ve been playing fairly well defensively the last three games,” Monson said. “It’s three straight games (holding opponents) under 70 points. I feel like we’re starting to get back to that, starting to take a little bit more ownership in that.
“If we can keep the offense going and get guys to knock down shots and we can guard like this we can make a run. We can be a dangerous team.”
The two teams play again in a rescheduled game Monday in York, Neb. starting at 7 p.m.
“That’s a place I haven’t won since I’ve been here so it’s going to be a completely different game and we’ve got to be ready for it,” Monson said.