Jordan Murdock‘s shirt and tie were soaked. So was his hair and beard, and beads of water dotted his glasses as he emerged from Kansas Wesleyan’s locker room.
It was a glorious prize after winning his first game as a college basketball head coach.
“Oh man, it felt great,” Murdock said in the afterglow of the Coyotes’ harrowing, come-from-behind 89-86 Kansas Conference victory over York Thursday night inside Mabee Arena. “It felt great to celebrate that with the team – my first win being in the head coaching role.
“I appreciate my guys coming out and just playing hard tonight. It was a tough one but we pulled it out.”
KWU ended a four-game losing streak and improved to 13-5 overall, 8-5 KCAC.
Murdock learned he was in charge during the first half of the women’s game when head coach Anthony Monson departed after becoming ill. Murdock, a former All-American at Friends and in his second season as a graduate assistant at KWU, didn’t flinch.
“Coach prepares us for the moment, he’s prepared me very well,” he said. “He makes sure that I understand from different aspects. I appreciate him, it felt normal for me. I just wanted the guys to go out and take the game serious and they did that.”
Murdock and Monson spoke by phone in the locker room after the game.
“I called him in the locker room after they got done dousing me with the water and it was just a good moment for us all,” Murdock said. “We’ve been a little funk lately but I think every team goes through that. We’ve still got the whole second half of the conference round-robin and it was good to get that win.”
It certainly wasn’t easy, though. York, which had won three in a row, made five quick 3-pointers and led 19-10 with just over 15 minutes left in the half.
KWU battled back and took a brief 31-30 lead but a 20-8 Panthers burst gave them a 50-39 lead 2½ minutes before halftime. York led 50-44 at intermission.
“We definitely had to make some adjustments, those guys were making some tough shots and luckily it went our way,” Murdock said.
The second half was a see-saw battle. York led 79-77 with 2:49 remaining but an 8-2 KWU run that was capped by a pivotal Easton Hunter (FR/Colwich, Kan.) 3-pointer with 35 seconds left gave the Coyotes an 85-81 lead.
The Panthers got within 85-83 with 24 seconds remaining but Wesleyan closed it out with four free throws the final 18.6 seconds – A.J. Range and Marcel Dean (SO/Tucson, Ariz.) each going 2 for 2.
A key juncture came with 2:31 left in the first half. York guard Erik Talton, whose 16 points in a 5½ minute span had given the Panthers the 50-39 lead, was ejected after picking up his second technical foul. He was 6 of 7 from the field and had made four 3-pointers before departing.
“It was definitely a momentum swing for us,” Murdock said.
Tyus Jeffries (SR/Oklahoma City, Okla.) led five Coyotes in double figures with 19 off the bench – 12 the second half – on 8 of 11 shooting. He scored seven consecutive points in one stretch of the second half.
Jeffries was a starter last season but has adjusted to his new role.
“The role I’m in is more defensive, it’s something nobody wants to do so I’ve got to step up,” he said. “Proof is in the pudding. I get stops, I get steals and I get layups. That’s really all there is to it.”
Murdock said a discussion with Jeffries paid dividends.
“Tyus stepped up in the best,” he said. “We had a good conversation with Tyus and he understands his role, he understands what he has to do to stay on the floor and he did those things tonight.”
Jeffries said Monson spoke to team on Facetime in the locker room before tipoff.
“(He told us) just play how we play, defense is going to win the game,” he said. “Just stick to what we know. We had to lock in because we were missing a piece to our puzzle.”
Jun Murdock (SO/Wichita, Kan.), Jordan’s younger brother, had 17 points and four assists after missing the Friends’ game with an injury. Dean had 15 points, Range 13 and eight rebounds and Hunter 10 points and five rebounds.
KWU shot 51.7 percent (31 of 60) overall, 10 of 22 from beyond the arc, and was 17 of 22 at the line.
Keyaun Hosken led York (7-12, 4-9 KCAC) with 24 points while Brent Clark had 19. The Panthers shot 46.6 percent (34 of 73) and were 12 of 32 from long range – 9 of 16 the first half but 3 of 16 the second.
The Coyotes play McPherson at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Sport Center in McPherson their next game. The Bulldogs (12-7, 7-6 KCAC) were idle Thursday but gained a victory after Saint Mary was forced to forfeit their game in Leavenworth because of COVID-19 issues.