The Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes defended Ottawa standout Isaiah Palmer as well as anyone had all season for the first 30 minutes of the game.
Palmer, a lean, 6-foot-6 senior forward who was named First Team All-Kansas Conference on Monday, did what great players typically do.
He ignited a furious Ottawa comeback by scoring 14 points, including four 3-pointers, in less than three minutes as the fifth-seeded Braves rallied for a 79-74 victory over No. 4 KWU in a quarterfinal game of the KCAC Men’s Championship on Wednesday night at Mabee Arena.
The Coyotes, who lost in the first round of the tournament for the second year in a row, end the season with a 17-12 record – the most victories in a season since 2008-09 when they won 19 games.
Ottawa (18-13) advances to Saturday’s semifinals and a game against top-seeded and No. 1 ranked Oklahoma Wesleyan in Bartlesville, Okla.
Palmer, who entered the game averaging 21.3 points, scored 20 points the second half – 17 the final 9:58.
KWU had a 56-52 lead following an Ithello Cross (SR/Gainesville, Ga.) basket with a 11:13 left, but Palmer, who had six points at the time, hit his first 3-pointer at the 9:58 mark, giving Ottawa a 57-56 advantage.
Another Cross basket put KWU back on top 58-57 with 9:34 left before Palmer took over with 11 consecutive points – three 3-pointers in a row and a two-point field goal – that gave the Braves a 70-59 advantage with 7:14 left.
“I thought we were doing a really good job on Palmer the second half … and we were a little bit late closing out on him and he got to see one (shot) finally go down and that’s what started everything,” KWU coach Anthony Monson said.
Wesleyan trailed by as many as 11 twice before making this interesting in the waning seconds.
Down 77-68, Marquis Kraemer (SO/Aurora, Colo.) made a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, trimming the deficit to 77-71. After a time out, Ottawa turned the ball over when a long inbounds pass sailed out of bounds at the opposite end of the court.
Brooks then hit a quick 3-pointer with 9.9 seconds left, making it 77-74, but Ottawa’s Ryan Haskins made a pair of free throws with 9.0 seconds left to end the suspense.
Jordan McNelly (JR/Salina, Kan,) led KWU with 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting while A.J. Range had 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting and also had a team-best eight rebounds. Brooks added 13 points, and Kraemer and Cross 10 each as the Coyotes shot 51 percent (26 of 51), including 7 of 20 from beyond the arc.
Cross, the lone senior on the roster, was 4 of 6 from the field and blocked two shots in his final game as a Coyote.
Palmer was 9 of 19 shooting, 5 of 11 from long range, and also had 10 rebounds. Tasmania Jones had 13 points and eight rebounds, Mason McDow 12 points off the bench and Darryl Bowie 10 off the bench for the Braves, who shot 48.2 percent (27 of 56), 9 of 27 from 3-point land, and out-rebounded KWU 35-29, including 11 offensive.
“The big difference in the game was our inability to grab rebounds, we just can’t do that in a game like this,” Monson said.
While pleased with the last-minute surge, Monson was left to ponder what if.
“When you make a run like that at the end like that you wish you’d had that same energy when you needed it, not just when your back was against the wall,” he said.
“I thought we just lost a little bit of focus at times and I thought we really struggled for the first time with dribble penetration. For whatever reason we couldn’t keep guys in front of us.”
Four starters return for the Coyotes next season and will be joined by Rashun Allen (SR/Salina, Kan.), who started in 2017-18, but sat out this year as a redshirt. That’s down the road, though.
“It’s a tough one right now, we all wanted to get out of this first round, kind of the next step,” Monson said. “It always sucks when your season ends like this, only one team ends the year with the championship. Seventeen wins is another step in the right direction and hopefully this is another learning step for us.
“At the end of the day Ottawa’s a great team, they did a great job, and I’m very proud of the effort my guys gave.”