The No. 18 ranked Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes got a bit of momentum heading into the halftime break, and used it to dominate the second half and pull away for an 81-54 win over the Sterling College Warriors on Tuesday night at Mabee Arena.
Tuesday’s game was the final Kansas Conference game for the Coyotes of the calendar year who do not face a conference opponent again until January 4 at Tabor.
The Coyotes had to overcome a slow start to the game, but got things going and built a 15-point margin at the break on Tyus Jeffries (SR/Oklahoma City, Okla.)’ 3-pointer that banked off the backboard and went through just before time expired in the game.
“It was kind of sluggish and dead in here for a little bit,” Wesleyan head coach Anthony Monson said, “But we were able to create some energy and I thought the guys responded really well at half time. Hitting that shot at the buzzer gave us some momentum, feeling good going in up 15 instead of 12.”
Just like Saturday, Monson reminded his team how key the start of the second half would be to set the tone the rest of the way.
Again it was more of what we talked about, a 6-0 run one way puts up 21, or the other way and we are up 9 and scrambling,” he said. “We gave up that early basket but we made a run after that and got it to 20 and just kind of kept it there.”
The victory gives the Coyotes a 7-1 record in the KCAC, and a 10-1 overall mark, remaining tied for second in the KCAC with No. 10 ranked Southwestern who held on to beat Bethany 84-71 tonight in Lindsborg.
Monson was quick to point out the importance of every game, especially in conference play, and getting wins, especially at home.
“Every game in the conference is a big one and winning this one, it’s a chance to separate ourselves and move away from some teams,” Monson said. “Sterling’s a good team. They’re better than what they showed tonight, I fully believe that, they’ve played a lot of teams tough.
“I’m proud of my guys, they took the challenge tonight. It was a long first semester with a lot of home games and you have to win your home games and we did a really good job of that.”
The Coyotes pulled away in the second half behind 12 points from Izaiah Hale (SO/Wichita, Kan.), who stepped into the starting line-up tonight in place of Easton Hunter (JR/Colwich, Kan.), who was out with an illness. All 12 of Hale’s points came in the second half in the first 11 minutes of the stanza as the Coyotes built a 25-point lead, 59-34, with 9:07 to go.
“Izaiah was great for us tonight, he filled in just what we needed him to do,” Monson said of Hale. “That’s the difference in a guy that is in his second year with us now. He is more comfortable, he understands what we want, he’s building off some things he has done well. The more we can keep him going forward, the better we are going to be.”
Sterling scored the first bucket of the second half, but the Coyotes used an 8-2 run after that to take a 40-21 lead with 17:55 left on a 3-pointer by Hale.
From there, the Coyotes held the Warriors at arm’s length, the margin never going under 16 points the rest of the way.
Hale’s triple with 14 minutes left made it 50-30 and Trey Duffey (JR/Topeka, Kan.)’s score with 11:28 left pushed the lead out to 56-30.
Wesleyan started out trailing 5-4 out of the gates but a 6-0 run capped by free throws by Thurbile Bile put the Coyotes up 10-5 with 15:14 left in the first half. Sterling tied it up at 12-12, but that’s when Wesleyan’s offense got untracked.
A 3 by Marcel Dean (JR/Tucson, Ariz.) with 10:44 to go in the half sparked a 13-0 Coyote run that gave KWU a 25-12 lead with six minutes left as Wesleyan’s defense kept Sterling scoreless for nearly seven minutes.
The Coyotes took a 32-17 lead into the break on Jeffries’ triple as time expired in the half.
Wesleyan has three more non-conference tilts remaining in the 2022 calendar year, starting with a pair of contests this weekend in Phoenix, Ariz. The Coyotes play SAGU-American Indian College on Saturday, then play Park Gilbert on Monday.
“We are just looking to continue growing, moving the needle forward. We aren’t out there for a vacation, we’re going out there to get two wins and get to 12 wins heading into break that’s the bottom line,” Monson said.
The Coyotes will get a brief holiday break before returning to take on Columbia (Mo.) at 1 p.m. on New Year’s Eve at Mabee Arena. KWU then steps back into KCAC play on January 4 at Tabor.