Kansas Wesleyan coach Anthony Monson was ecstatic with the outcome and rightfully so.
The No. 24 Coyotes’ 62-54 victory over arch rival Bethany in their Kansas Conference opener Wednesday night in front of a Mabee Arena record crowd of 1,577 kept them unbeaten at 4-0. They did so with gritty and determined defensive and rebounding efforts that helped them overcome a Coyote ugly offensive outing.
“We were locked in defensively all night long,” Monson said. “It’s just that the offensive end was a muddled mess. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a game where we’ve turned the ball over 25 times and won. That’s pretty amazing.”
KWU limited Bethany to 31 percent shooting (16 of 52) including 1 of 11 from beyond the arc. The Coyotes also outrebounded the Swedes 49-34 and forced 15 turnovers.
Their play at the other end of court, though, was not pretty. Wesleyan shot 32.7 percent (16 of 49) including 5 of 19 beyond the arch and committed the aforementioned 25 turnovers.
“I thought tonight we were very passive and very weak off the dribble,” Monson said. “We got back tapped a lot; we got pushed around a lot on the offensive end.”
Fortunately, Tyus Jeffries (SR/Oklahoma City, Okla.) was an exception. He saved the day off the bench finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds but it was his 11 consecutive points during a dazzling second half stretch that were pivotal.
Leading 35-33 with 10 minutes left in the game Jeffries drove to the rim and finished on five consecutive possessions, the fifth a three-point play that extended KWU’s lead to 46-35 with 7:16 left. The Swedes got no closer than seven the rest of the game.
“They just kept backing up,” Jeffries said of the Bethany defenders. “I kept bringing it to them and found ways to put it in.”
“Tyus is a bull in the china shop and you’re not going to push him around a whole lot,” Monson said. “He’s physical and strong. You keep trying something until you find something that works. We found something that works and kept relying on that defense.”
Monson said the rebounding advantage was equally important.
“We did pound them on the glass and that’s a big reason why we were able to keep that lead,” he said. “That made up for some of the turnovers but at the end of the day I told the guys if we find a way to win and get better without losing that’s great and that’s what we did tonight. We’ll try to watch that film and get better.”
KWU led the entire game after jumping to a quick 8-2 lead as both offenses struggled. The Coyotes led 23-10 with 5½ minutes left in the half but Bethany (4-2) rallied and got within 24-18 on a Justin Brookens’ basket with 1:07 left in the half.
Two Alex Littlejohn (SO/Newton, Kan.) free throws made it 26-18 with 32 seconds and were the final points of the half.
Brookens, though, suffered an injury going for a loose ball with one second left. He hopped off the court on one leg and wasn’t on the Bethany bench in the second half. Brookens, a senior point guard, was this week’s KCAC Offensive Player of the Week and was averaging 22.2 points per game. He finished with six Wednesday.
Solomon Clayton, the team’s second leading scorer at 16.8 per game, had nine points and 11 rebounds. Donovan Newton led Bethany with 20 points off the bench.
“I thought we did a really good job of just knowing their personnel – this guy’s a driver, this guy’s a shooter,” Monson said, “and playing off guys we could and making sure that guys we wanted to shoot the three, did shoot the three.”
“(Brookens) is a great player, he’s the heart and soul of their team but we just found a way to stop him,” Jeffries said. “Defense is what we do, it’s a given. You don’t pick and choose when to play defense. That’s what we stand on.”
Jun Murdock (JR/Wichita, Kan.) also scored 14 points for the Coyotes while Easton Hunter (JR/Colwich, Kan.) had 13 and three steals and Littlejohn 11 points to go along with 15 rebounds. Trey Duffey (JR/Topeka, Kan.) snagged 11 rebounds and also had two blocks and two steals.
The Coyotes are back in Mabee Arena on Saturday for a game against Bethel starting at 7 p.m. The Threshers (3-2, 1-0 KCAC) defeated Friends 81-76 Wednesday in Wichita.