BARTLESVILLE, Okla. – The Kansas Wesleyan men’s team didn’t win its quarterfinal game in the Kansas Conference Men’s Championship Wednesday night.
Second seeded and No. 20-ranked Oklahoma Wesleyan rallied from an eight-point deficit the final 2:40 and defeated the fifth seeded Coyotes 64-63 inside the Mueller Sports Center.
KWU coach Anthony Monson, though, was more than pleased with the way his team performed in its final game of the season, most notably his two seniors Nate Leach (SR/Houston, Texas) and Brayden White (SR/Topeka, Kan.).
“I’m just really, really proud of my team, proud of the effort that they gave tonight,” he said on his postgame radio show. “Couldn’t be more proud of the seniors for what they did tonight. We came up just a little bit short.”
White equaled his career high with 17 points to go along with three rebounds, three assists and two steals. Leach finished with six points, six rebounds and two assists. Leach was a member of the program for five seasons and White four.
“I told them in the locker room ‘I know it doesn’t feel like it because we didn’t win but you guys went out like winners,'” Monson said of White and Leach. “‘You played like winners and you deserved to win this game, I’m just sorry we couldn’t bring it home for you guys’ because they gave everything they possibly could.”
The loss was painfully similar to KWU’s 83-82 loss to OKWU January 27 in Bartlesville when the Eagles overcame a 10-point deficit the final 4:44.
AJ Range’s first 3-pointer of the season gave the Coyotes a 58-51 lead with 2:40 left in Wednesdays’ game but Valentin Van Putten, OKWU’s big man, quickly answered with a 3 at the other end that sparked an 8-0 run that gave the Eagles a 59-58 advantage with 1:31 left. KWU committed three turnovers during that span.
Two Trey Duffey (SO/Topeka, Kan.) free throws with 41.9 seconds put the Coyotes back on top 60-59 lead with 41.9 seconds left but OKWU scored the next five on Kaleb Stokes’ 3-pointer with 29 seconds left and two Van Putten free throws with 1.7 seconds remaining.
White sank a long 3-pointer just before the horn for the game’s final points.
The loss ended the Coyotes’ five-game winning streak that came after an eight-game losing streak that was punctuated by a 12-day pause due to health and safety protocols.
“This team’s been through a whirlwind here,
” Monson said. “Playing a basketball season with COVID is one thing. But then to battle through some adversities, some quarantines and then have a team lose eight straight games …
“I don’t know if there’s many teams that could do what we just did. Lose eight straight games and find a way to turn it around and give it everything we’ve got in the tournament on the road. It just shows the toughness and the character of this team.”
KWU, which finished with a 12-14 record, shot 45 percent (23 of 51) that included 7 of 17 from deep. OKWU shot 35.5 percent (22 of 62) – just 5 of 27 from long range. The Eagles entered the game averaging a KCAC-best 11 made 3-pointers per game and shooting conference-best 36.6 percent beyond the arc.
White was 6 of 9 shooting, including 3 of 4 beyond the arc, and 2 of 2 at the foul line. Range scored 15 before fouling out with 1:38 left and Micah Lovett (FR/Tulsa, Okla.) had nine points and six rebounds.
Stokes led OKWU (18-5) with 17 points and Van Putten 13 and seven rebounds. The Eagles play third-seeded Ottawa Saturday in Bartlesville in the semifinals.
Monson said the future is bright for the program going forward.
“We’ve got some good young guys, we’ve got some good returners,” he said. “We’ll get back after it starting the offseason now. This is where we’ve got to get better, we’ve got to get tougher, we’ve got to get stronger. And we will. We’ve got a group of guys that obviously have no quit and wants to work.”