There was no nail-biting needed, and nothing to fret about as had been the case the previous two outings at the end of Kansas Wesleyan’s game with the Friends Falcons on Saturday night at Mabee Arena.
Instead of the game coming down to a final shot to win or lose, the Coyotes pulled away in the second half and cruised to an 87-69 win over the Falcons. The win extends Wesleyan’s winning streak to three games since returning from a 21-day layoff due to COVID-19 concerns.
“I just think we were tired of that happening. We don’t want to be flustered at the end of the game and worried if we’re going to lose on a buzzer beater, because we want to enjoy a win,” Wesleyan guard Gabe Mack (JR/Milwaukee, Wis.) said. “We wanted to keep the lead we had at the half, so I think we just buckled down and took care of business tonight.”
“You come back after 21 days off and go 3-0 in a six-day period, with wins over Ottawa, McPherson and Friends, that was big for us,” KWU coach Anthony Monson said. “Now we have the next three on the road and we have to step up and handle our business there. It’ll be fun to be back on the road and we will see if we can get a couple more wins heading into the break.”
Mack said the quarantine gave the team a much-needed break, both physically and mentally, to refocus on the stretch to close out the first part of the season.
“Quarantine gave us a little break,” Mack said. “I think we needed it, really. It gave us all a mental break to come back and realize what we need to do, and what we needed to focus on to be better.”
The win capped a 3-0 week for the Coyotes, who picked up wins over No. 14 Ottawa, 95-93 on Monday, and 68-66 over McPherson on Wednesday.
“I think this week was really big,” Mack said. “Coach Monson really prepared us well for this, coming out of quarantine, and we like the outcome we have, going 3-0. We need to keep our mindset the same and keep getting better every day.”
The Coyotes stepped up the defensive pressure, holding Friends to just 41.7 percent shooting for the game (25 of 60), and 6 of 20 from 3-point range (30 percent).
“I am just looking for that steady improvement every game and that’s what we got tonight,” Monson said. “They have two really good shooters in Konek (6 points) and Rumbo (scoreless), and I thought we did a really good job of not allowing shots to them tonight.”
The game started out back and forth between the teams, but a three-point play by AJ Range (SR/Junction City, Kan.) gave the Coyotes an 11-10 lead with 14:48 left in the opening half, and a bucket by CJ Weathers (JR/Allen, Texas) and another score by Trey Duffey (SO/Topeka, Kan.) extended Wesleyan’s lead to 15-10 with 13:46 left.
Trey Gilbert (JR/Holcomb, Kan.)’s bucket with 3:16 left in the first pushed the Coyote lead out to 13 points at 37-24.
Wesleyan led 38-28 at the half.
After the Coyotes took a 12-point lead with just under 18 minutes left, Friends was able to cut the lead to nine, during a bit of a rough stretch for the Coyotes.
“We were a little sloppy with the ball tonight with 18 turnovers, but at the same time, I thought our defense was really good,” Monson said. “I think we are starting to find our rhythm, we shot over 50 percent for the game, a bunch of guys in double figures, and our entire rotation is productive.
The Coyotes quickly rebounded, pushing the lead out to 18 points on Gilbert’s bucket with 10:27 to go that made it 57-59.
Friends got it back within 11 at 65-54, but a triple by Mack sparked the offense again for the Coyotes, extending the lead out to 17 at 72-55 after free throws by Range with 4:43 left.
The Falcons made things a twinge interesting, cutting the lead to 10 with 1:50 left, but a bucket by Range and three by Easton Hunter (FR/Colwich, Kan.) quickly ended the suspense as the Coyotes would come away with the 87-69 decision.
Range paced all scorers the in the game with 21 points and added 12 rebounds for another double-double. The Coyotes shot 51.6 percent for the game (32 of 62). Four others reached double figures as Mack added 14, Jeffries 11 and Hunter and Duffey 10 each. Duffey recorded a new career high with 10 points.
Davonte Pack led Friends with 19 points and 15 rebounds. The Falcons shot 41.7 percent for the game (25 of 60).
Tonight’s games were the last on the Mabee Arena floor under its current design, which is original to the building, when it was built and opened in 2008. Over the holiday break, the floor will be sanded and a new design will be put down.
“It’s kind of fun. You look at it right now and we’ve had some barn burners in here, I’ve gotten my tail kicked a couple times in here,” Monson said with a laugh. “We’ve had some upsets in here, like Jordan McNelly knocking off Southwestern when they were ranked No. 6 in the country. Now we get to usher in something new. I am excited to get to that.”
Wesleyan is at Avila on Monday, then travels to Bethany on Thursday and Sterling on Saturday for make-ups from earlier postponements.