Second half rally by Morningside sends Mustangs past Coyotes in NAIA Second Round

WICHITA – The Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes played perhaps their best basketball of the season for 32 minutes Wednesday afternoon against Morningside.


They couldn’t maintain the pace the final eight minutes, though. Morningside closed the game on a 25-8 run and defeated KWU 87-80 in a second-round game of the NAIA Men’s National Championship inside Garvey Center on the Friends University campus.


Wesleyan, seeded fifth in the Liston Quadrant, finished the season with a 26-5 record while fourth-seeded Morningside (24-7) advances to next week’s Round of 16 in Kansas City, Mo.


The Coyotes appeared to be in control leading 72-62 following Thurbil Bile (JR/Centennial, Colo.)’s dunk with 8:11 left in the game. After a timeout Morningside embarked on its closing run.


The Mustangs scored 10 unanswered points to tie it at 72 with 4:47 left. Tyus Jeffries (SR/Oklahoma City, Okla.)’ layup gave KWU its final lead, 74-72, with 4:18 remaining but Morningside continued to surge and scored the next nine points for a 81-74 advantage with 1:11 left.


Cory Kaplan (JR/Merritt Island, Fla.)’s basket with 47.2 seconds left cut the deficit to 81-76 but the Mustangs pulled away by scoring six of the next seven points and led 87-77 with 29 seconds on the clock. Jun Murdock (JR/Wichita, Kan.)’s 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left accounted for the game’s final points.


The Coyotes missed 10 of their last 13 shots while Morningside made eight its final 12.


“They got a little bit more aggressive but we just missed our opportunities,” KWU coach Anthony Monson said. “We didn’t finish shots that we should have. That’s what it came down to so it’s a tough one.”


Wesleyan led 41-36 at halftime behind the white-hot shooting of Easton Hunter (JR/Colwich, Kan.), who scored 18 on 6 of 7 shooting behind the 3-point line. Murdock had 13 as the Coyotes shot 50 percent (15 of 30) and limited Morningside to 37 percent (13 of 35).


The Mustangs warmed up the final 20 minutes making 18 of 27 shots (66.7 percent) while KWU cooled off, 16 of 34 (47 percent). Morningside also outrebounded the Coyotes 18-12 the second half.


Hunter and Murdock finished with 23 points each while Jeffries had 12 off the bench as KWU shot 48.4 percent for the game (31 of 64). Morningside focused its defensive efforts on Alex Littlejohn (SO/Newton, Kan.), KWU’s leading scorer and rebounder, and limited him to four points and a team-best six rebounds and five assists.


“Easton was great, he knocked down shots and played extremely well,” Monson said. “He kept us afloat when Alex was getting (double teamed). We just didn’t do a good enough job to get Alex in position to make some plays and when we did he didn’t capitalize.”


Guard Jack Dotzler led Morningside with 23 points and eight assists while forward Ely Doble had 22 points and seven rebounds. The Mustangs shot 50 percent for the game (31 of 62) and were 18 of 24 at the free throw line compared to KWU’s 8 of 11.


“You’ve got to give them credit,” Monson said. “Give my guys a lot of credit too, they battled and competed all day long. They just made the plays when they needed to and we didn’t and came up short.”


KWU returns all five starters and several top reserves next season.


“The guys feel awful right now,” Monson said. “At the end of the day that’s what losing in the national tournament is, it’s painful. You hope you can learn; hope you can go forward and grow from it. And we will.”