Jun Murdock (JR/Wichita, Kan.) and his Kansas Wesleyan teammates had grown weary of practice and dwelling on the past while waiting to see who they will play in the NAIA Men’s Basketball National Championship.
The No. 12-ranked Coyotes (25-4) were likely participants in the tournament despite their 75-66 loss to Sterling in the quarterfinals of the Kansas Conference tournament February 22 inside Mabee Arena.
Their eight-day furlough ended Thursday night when the NAIA announced Wesleyan will play Indiana University-Kokomo (23-8) in a first-round game at 2 p.m. Tuesday inside the Garvey Center on the Friends University campus in Wichita.
KWU is the fifth seed in the Liston Quadrant and IU-Kokomo the 12th. The winner plays either fourth-seeded Morningside (Iowa) or 13th-seeded Columbia (Mo.) at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Garvey in the second round. Morningside and Columbia play at noon Tuesday.
“We’d play anybody right now after what happened,” point guard Jun Murdock said. “We’ve been practicing hard.”
Murdock said the focus has been on avoiding a repeat of the Sterling letdown. The Coyotes thumped the Warriors twice during the regular season but couldn’t do it a third time.
“The focus has been on the defensive end and just fixing the little things,” he said. “Making sure the energy’s up, the intensity’s high and just making sure everybody’s going hard at all times.
“The lesson is we respect every opponent and when we step on the floor play as hard as we can and the way we know we can.”
The game will be a homecoming for Murdock, a Wichita product who played at Southeast High School.
“It’s really good,” he said. “All my friends will be there for sure. We got a lot of the guys from Wichita on the team, it’s close to the school so it should be really packed out. Hopefully we get it going in there.”
IU-Kokomo received an at-large bid after losing to IU-Southeast 68-60 in the River States Conference Championship game February 22 in Kokomo. The Athletics won the River States West Division with a 15-3 record, one game ahead of IU-Southeast.
KWU coach Anthony Monson said his team is ready.
“We’re ready to get back on the court,” he said. “I think we needed this state of calm because it kind of put that game behind us and gave us something to focus on. Prior to (the announcement) we were just staring at the sky and wondering what’s next?
“This game gives us some direction and we know where we’re going and who we’re playing and we can start getting to a routine.”
Monson said the pause was beneficial, to a point.
“It gives you time to re-evaluate, gives your guys a little bit of a break,” he said. “But at the same time, you don’t want to lose your intensity that you were finishing the year with. You’re trying to find that balance in keeping the guys fresh and getting ready to go.”
Monson said playing in Garvey will help.
“It should be a comfort level for us, which is good,” he said, “but it’s a gym and all gyms are the same. All the hoops are 10 feet tall, the court’s 94-feet long and everything else.”
Monson said the process of learning about IU-Kokomo was about to begin.
“It’s going to be two good teams that don’t know a whole lot about each other,” he said. “We’re just going to have to feel our way through it. I expect it to come down to the last couple of minutes and hopefully we can find a way to be on top.”
Three other KCAC teams also will compete Tuesday in the 64-team event. Oklahoma Wesleyan plays Concordia (Neb.) in Park City; Southwestern takes on Northwestern (Iowa) in Langston, Okla.; and Bethel faces Jamestown in Jamestown (N.D.).
Tickets for the event are on sale now at www.kcacsports.com/tickets. Tickets are good for sessions each day, and are $20 each.