Men’s Basketball falls to Oklahoma Wesleyan 81-65 in KCAC Championship

PARK CITY – It was not the outcome Kansas Wesleyan coach Anthony Monson wanted but he was at least heartened by the fact there is more basketball to be played.


Top-seeded and fourth-ranked Oklahoma Wesleyan took a 26-point lead into halftime then fended off KWU’s second-half comeback attempts in an 81-65 victory in the championship game of the Kansas Conference Men’s Tournament Monday night inside Hartman Arena.

The second-seeded Coyotes (23-8) got as close as 13 points three times in the second half, but OKWU (29-2) held on. Cold shooting (36.4 percent) and the Eagles’ All-American center Jaden Lietzke (21 points, 13 rebounds) were major factors.

Monson was not distraught, though.

“I’m proud of these guys,” he said. “A rough night tonight but that doesn’t sum up the season. It’s not over with.”

KWU will be among the 64 teams playing in the NAIA National Championship – the field and first-round pairings unveiled at 6 p.m. Thursday. First- and second-round games will be played at March 15-16 at various campus sites across the country – Wesleyan one of them with the Coyotes and three other teams playing March 15 inside Mabee Arena.

Four women’s teams also will compete in first-round games at KWU that day. Second-round games will be played March 16.

The Coyotes will have 10 days to rest and regroup after Monday’s setback. OKWU shot 60 percent in the first half (18 of 30) that included 7 of 13 from long distance. The Coyotes, meanwhile, shot 23.3 percent (7 of 30), were 0 of 11 beyond the arc and trailed 48-22 at the intermission.

“We couldn’t hit shots, turned the ball over, no rhythm offensively, defense starts to feel a lot of pressure and the next you know you’re down and it just spirals out of control,” Monson said.

He cited several reasons.

“I think there was a little bit of nerves, I don’t think we executed very well,” he said. “We talked about moving the ball, getting downhill and penetrating and we didn’t do a whole lot of that. We settled for bad jumpers and when we did drive it was terrible finishes.”

The second half was a different story. KWU was 17 of 36 from the field (47.2 percent), limited OKWU to 15 of 42 shooting (35.7 percent) and outscored the Eagles 43-33.

Monson was pleased with the way his team responded after the break.

“We never gave up, I never thought we would give up,” he said. “I just wondered how much energy we could give without giving up layup after layup. We battled and competed and did things better in the second half but we can’t dig ourselves a 26-point hole and expect something good to happen.”

Alex Littlejohn led the Coyotes with 19 points and 17 rebounds – 17 points in the second half that included the team’s two made 3-pointers on the night (2 of 23). Jun Murdock had 18 points, Caden Hale 13 and Thurbil Bile 10 and six rebounds.

The Eagles outscored KWU 40-26 in the paint, had more second chance points (15-6) and had 19 points off turnovers compared to nine for the Coyotes. Lietzke, a 6-foot-8 junior and unanimous All-KCAC First Team selection, was 10 of 15 shooting and scored 14 the second half.

“We’ve got to watch some film and fix a few things and go from there with it,” Monson said. “The national tournament’s coming up and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing things the right way and playing the right way come Friday next week.”