Three words on a poster that hangs on the entryway door into their locker room succinctly described the Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes’ effort Monday night: Adapt and Overcome.
They did just that, playing their first game in 20 days and facing the team picked to finish second in the preseason polls. The Coyotes turned in their best offensive effort of the season and withstood Ottawa’s furious rally in the final two minutes en route to a 95-93 Kansas Conference victory at Mabee Arena.
The game was KWU’s first since November 17, the layoff necessitated by COVID-19 concerns. The Coyotes improved 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the KCAC with the victory while Ottawa fell to 2-3 and 0-3.
The 95 points were a season-high and were the result of season-bests in field goal percentage (55.2) and made 3-pointers (11). They entered the game ranked 13th in scoring in the KCAC (70.3 points), 12th in field goal percentage (41.7) and 13th in 3-point shooting (21.8).
So much for any quarantine-related rust.
“It was just moving the ball more, having confidence in others and trusting others – we feel like we’re finally starting to click with our starters and the bench,” said AJ Range (SR/Junction City, Kan.), who led the KWU assault with 17 points on 8 of 12 shooting. “Credit (head coach Anthony) Monson for making us come in during two-a-days and getting a lot of shots up – before and after practice, too. And game speed shots that we really needed practice on.”
Tyus Jeffries (JR/Oklahoma City, Okla.) added 16 points on 7 of 13 shooting while Gabe Mack (JR/Milwaukee, Wis.) had 13 points and Easton Hunter (FR/Colwich, Kan.) 11 – Mack and Hunter making three 3-pointers apiece. Six other Coyotes scored at least five points, led by reserve guard Nate Leach (SR/Houston, Texas) who contributed 9 points and 7 rebounds.
“We had really good preparation coming into this game,” Monson said. “I thought we pushed the guys pretty hard, had some two-a-day (practices) in there, even had the guys in here last night after practicing in the afternoon just to get shots up. Since its just us here on campus we might as well get in the gym and keep working at it.”
Monson said his team was ready to go after sitting around for an extended period.
“I thought we had great intensity in practice and it carried over into the game,” he said. “I thought the guys did a really good job of pushing themselves.”
Range said he resorted to drastic measures to entertain himself during the break.
“It was boring,” he said. “I stayed here in the dorms and had to find ways to do stuff. I even messed up my room a couple of times just to clean it up after I was done.”
The Coyotes used first half scoring runs of 11-2, 7-0 and 8-0 in building a 52-40 halftime lead. They shot 60 percent (21 of 35) that included 5 of 11 from deep.
The lead billowed to 65-50 with 16 minutes left in the game but Ottawa, the defending KCAC champion, wasn’t finished. The Braves got within 81-75 with just under 7 minutes left but KWU built the advantage back to 11 (92-81) with 3½ minutes remaining.
Ottawa responded with a last-ditch 8-0 burst and trailed 92-89 with 2 minutes left. Jaquan Daniel’s two free throws with 45.7 seconds remaining closed the gap to 95-93.
Jeffries missed a jump shot on KWU’s next possession and Ottawa called time out with 9.2 seconds left to set up a final play but Perry Carroll’s 3-pointer from the left wing bounced off the rim and into Jeffries hands as time expired.
Carroll scored OU’s first 11 points and finished with 20. Daniels led the way with 21 as Ottawa shot 47 percent (32 of 68) overall. The Braves did much of their damage from beyond the 3-point arc, where they were 14 of 32 (43.8 percent).
“We got a little careless and sloppy at the end of the game, we were playing not lose instead of playing to win,” Monson said. “But that happens, especially early in the year, especially when you’ve had 20 days off.”
Monson said he expected to hear from his favorite critic.
“I’m sure my dad will send me a text and be like ‘you should worry about that press and making free throws,'” he said with a laugh. “OK, thank you Captain Obvious.”
Monson said he was confident his team would find its collective shooting touch.
“I’m not surprised we hit shots, finally,” he said. “It was going to happen eventually; this is what I see every day in practice. We don’t give up 93 points – I don’t see that every day – but score 95? I’ll take that right now and we’ll roll with it.
“Our record is 4-4 but I’d love to see a lot of teams go through what we’ve just been through and be 4-4. I’m really proud of these guys and we’ve just got to keep building off what we did tonight and move forward.”
The Coyotes play McPherson at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Mabee Arena in their next outing in a game that originally scheduled for November 13. They finish the week with a game against Friends at 7 p.m. Saturday, also inside Mabee Arena.