Kansas Wesleyan coach Anthony Monson emerged from the team’s locker room inside Mabee Arena fully dressed but looking like he’d been standing in the shower – soaked from head-to-toe … and sporting a wide smile.
That’s what happens when you get your 100th career victory in the season and home opener against a quality opponent.
KWU 78, Bellevue 54.
“I told the guys in locker room a coach is only as good as his players and it’s true,” Monson said Friday night after the game. “Obviously it’s an awesome milestone but at the same time it’s a testament to all the guys who have been in the program that I’ve had the privilege to coach. It’s been a joy coaching all of them and that’s why I love working for Kansas Wesleyan. Now we try to go for 200.”
If the Coyotes play like they did Friday it won’t take long. They shot 55 percent from the field (33 of 60), limited Bellevue to 36.4 percent (20 of 55), won the rebounding battle against taller Bruins 39-27 and led the entire game – their advantage as many as 34 points in the second half.
Bellevue received votes in the NAIA coaches’ preseason poll and had won its first two games.
All 17 Coyotes in uniform played and 12 scored led by Alex Littlejohn (SO/Newton, Kan.) and Jun Murdock (JR/Wichita, Kan.) who had 12 points apiece. Littlejohn also grabbed 15 rebounds. Cory Kaplan (JR/Merritt Island, Fla.) and Caden Hale (SO/Glenpool, Okla.) each scored nine and Thurbil Bile (JR/Centennial, Colo.) and Trey Duffey (JR/Topeka, Kan.) had eight apiece.
“We talked about it as a team, we were just trying to go out and win and get that for (Monson),” said Littlejohn who had a double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds) by halftime. “It means as much to us as it does to him, I think.”
Surprisingly the Coyotes’ offense mostly came from inside the 3-point arc which was their strength a year ago. They were just 3 of 11 from deep while finding success closer to the rim.
“(Perimeter shooting) is probably the strength of our team,” Monson said. “We shoot the ball fairly well. We got off to a good start and we were just running to the rim and making layups.”
Murdock, KWU’s returning All-America point guard, set the tone on the Coyotes’ first three possessions by zipping through Bellevue’s defense for layups and forcing the Bruins to take an early timeout. He also had four assists as Wesleyan finished with 11 on 33 made baskets.
Monson was most pleased, though, with his team’s work on the defensive end.
“I thought we guarded really well,” he said. “We made everything really tough for them even at the rim. Having T – Thurbil, we call him T – back there walling up with those long arms, that’s a new toy in the toolbox. To take a team completely out of their rhythm like we did shows what we’re capable of.”
“We just wanted to come out and play hard,” Littlejohn said. “We tried to minimize the mistakes, not have too many turnovers and get stops. That was important, it’s all defense. The offense will come, we’ve got talented players across the board.”
KWU raced to a 10-2 lead at the start and was up 25-10 with 9½ minutes left in the half. Leading 27-14 the Coyotes effectively closed the book with a 12-0 run and took a 42-24 lead into intermission.
Any concerns about a second-half letdown quickly vanished as they scored 18 of the first 23 points to start the period and eventually led 68-34 with 6½ minutes remaining.
“We had to fight some complacency a little bit, which was good,” said Monson, who utilized a 10-man rotation with no drop-off.
“The good thing about depth is it’s always going to be somebody new with a good night and we’ve got a ton of tools,” he said. “I told the guys before the season started ‘some nights it’s going to be your night, some nights it’s not’ and you’ve got to be as supportive as you’ve ever been on the bench. I thought we did a good job with that tonight.”
The Coyotes play Doane at 5 p.m. Saturday inside Mabee Arena. Doane lost to Bethany 67-55 in Friday’s first game.
The KWU women take on No. 9-ranked Central Methodist at 3 p.m. Saturday.