YORK, Neb. – The Freeman Center at York College is not a place that Kansas Wesleyan head coach Anthony Monson has enjoyed visiting during his Coyote coaching tenure.
After going 0-4 in the four previous tries at York, Monson and Co., finally broke the Freeman curse and escaped with a 70-63 win on Wednesday night in the Kansas Conference opener for both teams.
The victory boosted Wesleyan’s record to 5-0 overall, 1-0 in the KCAC. York fell to 3-4 overall, 0-1 in the KCAC.
“If I’m going to get my first win here it’s probably going to be some ugly mess because that’s how they’ve all been,” Monson said as part of his post-game radio show. “We found a way. We didn’t play good tonight. All we did was guard and it just kind of held us in the game long enough for guys to start making some plays and shots.”
The Coyotes led by as many as eight in the first half, and led 35-30 at intermission, but York would press back in the second half.
The Panthers built as much as an eight point lead with just under 11 minutes left, when Wesleyan turned things around behind the play of Jun Murdock (SO/Wichita, Kan.), Gabe Mack (JR/Milwaukee, Wis.) and CJ Weathers (JR/Allen, Texas).
Murdock hit a 3 with 9:41 left to get the Coyotes within five and Mack’s bucket on KWU’s next possession got the Coyotes within three at 53-50. The teams traded baskets with the Coyotes unable to push ahead until Murdock’s free throws with 5:15 left gave KWU a 58-57 lead.
Weathers came up huge on the defensive end with a block against Brent Clark with just under three minutes left that helped keep the Coyotes at a 62-59 advantage.
“We used a couple of guys off the bench tonight that haven’t been ready. That’s why I tell them every day ‘guys that’s why you practice, that’s why you’ve got to be ready to go because any moment I might need you,'” Monson said. “Tonight, Gabe and CJ were huge off the bench. Without those two we probably don’t win.”
Mack closed the Coyote scoring line with three clutch free throws giving KWU a 69-61 lead with 30 seconds left and another after a York basket with 12 seconds left that made it a three-possession game.
“Gabe had a good week of practice and we just needed some energy and we were really struggling just trying to get downhill,” Monson said. “You’ve got to trust something. We had a lot of confidence to put Gabe in the game and CJ had a huge block.”
Wesleyan didn’t shoot at its lights-out pace of the first three games of the season, only connecting on 39 percent of shots (23 of 59) but made up for it on the defensive end of the floor, holding a fifth-straight opponent to under 70 points.
“We just did not shoot it well. It just goes to show how talented we really are,” Monson said. “We don’t quit on the defensive end and eventually we’re going to get those stops and we did.”
York scored the first four points of the game, but the Coyotes came back to tie at 4-4 on Cory Kaplan (SO/Merritt Island, Fla.)’s bucket.
The Panthers pressed out to a 13-8 lead with 14:13 left in the first when Wesleyan went on a 7-0 run to take a 15-13 lead on a triple by Murdock, who finished with a game-high 25 points.
KWU broke a 19-all tie on Izaiah Hale (FR/Wichita, Kan.)’s bucket with 8:05 left in the first and outscored the Panthers 12-4 over the next five minutes to take a 31-23 lead on AJ Range (SR/Junction City, Kan.)’s free throws with 3:18 to go.
York outscored the Coyotes 14-4 to start the second half, taking a 44-39 lead with 14:39 to go, but Trey Duffey (SO/Topeka, Kan.) drew the Coyotes within a point at 44-43 with 13:17 left.
Duffey had the Coyotes again within a point with 12:30 left but a 9-2 run by the Panthers gave York a 53-45 lead with 10:56 to go.
“We got down in the second half and found a way to win, I thought that was a good confidence builder for us,” Monson said. “You come up here and it’s just different. Conference play is different. Good crowd, York played their tails off tonight with a lot of energy, a lot of electricity in the gym.
“We’re just real excited to get that win and go 1-0 in conference play.”
The Coyotes face another challenge on Saturday, hosting McPherson at 7 p.m. at Mabee Arena in the conference home opener. McPherson beat Saint Mary 77-74 Wednesday night in McPherson.