KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kansas Wesleyan Men’s Basketball hangs its hat nightly on defense. Thursday night’s game with the Avila Eagles was no different for the 18th-ranked Coyotes.
Wesleyan held Avila to 25.5 percent shooting and 39 points as the Coyotes pulled away in the second half for a 61-39 win over the Eagles at Mabee Fieldhouse.
The game was the first official road trip for the Coyotes this season, after opening the season with six straight home games, followed by a pair of exhibitions last weekend in Colorado against NCAA Division-II competition, that didn’t affect KWU’s record.
The 39 points is the fewest since holding Bethel to 39 in a 63-39 win on January 20, 2011 in North Newton. KWU limited Sterling to 44 points in a game last season for the previous low point allowed mark under coach Anthony Monson.
Both teams struggled in the first 20 minutes. KWU led 21-18 at the break, but had to use an 8-0 run over a 9-plus minute span to build a 14-8 lead until Avila scored to make it 14-11 Coyotes with 7:20 to in the first half.
The Eagles got stuck again on 11 points for another three and a half minutes as the Coyotes scored seven points to take a 21-11 lead with 4:01 to go on Alex Littlejohn (SO/Newton, Kan.)’s layup. Avila scored with 2:57 to go and closed the half on a 7-0 run to get within three at the break.
“It wasn’t a pretty first half,” Wesleyan coach Anthony Monson said on his post-game radio show. “It was one of those things where we just had to grind it out, because we weren’t hitting shots.
“We came out with better energy in the second half, still didn’t shoot it very well, but we were able to get stuff at the rim, at the basket. We were able to use our length and athleticism and went from there.”
Wesleyan opened the second half on a 10-2 run capped by Cory Kaplan (JR/Merritt Island, Fla.)’s bucket with 17:57 left that pushed the Coyote lead out to 31-20 and forced an Avila timeout.
“I’m really happy with how we played in the second half, we scored 40 points, a lot better than 21 (in the first), and we did it without trying to jack up a bunch of 3 pointers,” Monson said.
Wesleyan’s defense was key in the second half, holding the Eagles to 21 points in the period on just 7 of 32 shooting (21.8 percent). On the other side, Wesleyan’s offense drastically improved in the second half, shooting 56.7 percent (17 of 30) in the period.
“We did a really good job of just knowing the scouting report and how to guard certain plays and certain actions. I thought we did a really good job with that tonight,” Monson said. “We guarded the shooters when we needed to, played off the guys we needed to, and got it done.
“I thought we could have hit the glass a little better tonight than we did, because of our size advantage, but give Avila the credit, they battled and competed all night. At the end of the day conference games are a slug fest and being able to win one on the road, that’s big.”
Wesleyan won the rebounding battle 40-36 over the Eagles, but allowed 12 offensive rebounds, but Avila could only turn them into four points.
Avila got no closer than 10 points the rest of the way, with 14:48 left. A three by Jun Murdock (JR/Wichita, Kan.) put the Coyotes up 14 with 12:45 left, and Alex Littlejohn‘s bucket with 4:15 left put the Coyotes up 21 at 55-34.
Littlejohn was one of three Coyotes that scored 12 points to lead the way for the Coyotes along with Murdock and Thurbil Bile (JR/Centennial, Colo.). Littlejohn also recorded his fifth double-double in six games with 11 rebounds. Bile had 10 of his 12 points in the second half.
A monumental task awaits the Coyotes on Saturday at Mabee Arena, as KWU hosts No. 8 ranked Oklahoma Wesleyan in a 7 p.m. tip. It will be the fifth meeting in just over a year between the two teams, that played twice in the regular season, once in the KCAC Tournament, and met again in the final of the NAIA Opening Round at Hartman Arena in March.
“Obviously if we are going to keep winning, we are going to have to get back home and we are going to have to shoot the ball better,” Monson said. “They (OKWU) are going to do a lot of the same things that happened to us tonight. They’re going to pack the lane on us and so on.
“We will enjoy this one tonight, watch some film on Oklahoma Wesleyan and try to figure out a way to beat those guys.”