STERLING – The 2021-22 Kansas Wesleyan basketball team won 23 games – 20 during the regular and three in the postseason when they qualified for the NAIA National Championship and notched a first-round victory.
This year the 12th-ranked Coyotes have 23 victories with two games left in the regular season and what they believe will be a substantial postseason run.
They matched last year’s total by cruising to an 87-69 Kansas Conference victory over Sterling on Saturday night inside the Gleason Center. KWU led by 18 at halftime and Sterling got no closer than 12 late in the game.
The victory was Coyotes’ 11th on the road this season (11-2), third in a row, sixth in the last seven games and 16th in the last 18.
“It’s just more confidence and understanding we are good, we do belong,” coach Anthony Monson on his postgame show when asked about the team’s progress from last season. “I think the people keep waiting for us to slip up and it just hasn’t been happening. At the end of the day the credit goes to these guys, they’ve done a tremendous job all year.”
Saturday was no exception. Leading 16-14 with nine minutes left in the opening half KWU outscored Sterling 27-11 and led 43-25 at the break. The last 12 points came on four 3-pointers, three by Easton Hunter (JR/Colwich, Kan.) and the fourth by Jun Murdock (JR/Wichita, Kan.) just before halftime horn – a shot Monson felt was pivotal after Sterling had made a 3 seconds earlier.
“We would have been going in at half up 15, they had just hit a 3 that’s a little bit of momentum for them,” he said. “Then Jun comes down and hits that 3 and it was almost like ‘that’s it.’ ”
The Coyotes led by as many as 22 (66-44) with 10:23 left in the game.
It was their second lopsided victory this season over Sterling, which has been the surprise team in the KCAC. KWU defeated the Warriors 81-54 December 13 inside Mabee Arena.
“They’ve played everybody really tough and for whatever reason we’ve been fortunate enough twice to give them probably their two worst losses of the year,” Monson said. “I thought we were focused; I thought the Saint Mary game (Wednesday) was a good attention getter for us especially in practice and set a good tone for what we needed to do moving forward here.”
The Coyotes shot a scorching 59.3 percent (35 of 59) and were led by Alex Littlejohn (SO/Newton, Kan.) with 17 points and seven rebounds. Murdock had 13 points and four assists and Hunter 11 points that included 3 of 5 shooting from beyond the arc. The Coyotes were 8 of 17 from long range and nine of 13 at the free throw line.
KWU had 10 turnovers while Sterling had 12 but the Coyotes scored 20 points off of the Warriors mistakes. Sterling scored just five off of Wesleyan’s turnovers.
“You can’t score on a turnover but you can score on a bad shot,” Monson said. “On the road just trying to give ourselves as many opportunities as we could to get a basket. Turnovers can be a momentum swing and we didn’t let them get any real momentum.”
Sterling (14-12, 10-10 KCAC) shot 38.5 percent (25 of 65), 7 of 16 from 3-point range and won the rebounding battle 33-28.
“I thought we did a great job from start to finish tonight. I thought we showed what type of team we are and I’m really proud of their effort.”
KWU ends the regular season with two games in Mabee Arena next week – Tabor at 8 p.m. Wednesday and York at 8 p.m. Saturday. The KCAC Tournament begins February 22 at campus sites.