All season long, the Kansas Wesleyan men’s basketball team relied on the magic from Mabee Arena.
The tank just ran out of fuel.
KWU stormed back after trailing by 24 points to lead with three minutes left, but failed to complete the task at hand, falling to the Friends Falcons 81-74.
Both teams came out hot, combining for five field goals. After a 9-9 tie, the Falcons used a pair of runs to creating separation from the Coyotes. The first was a 12-2 spurt, leading to a 21-11 cushion with 11:21 remaining in the half. KWU cut the deficit to eight with 8:18 to go, but Friends answered with a 13-2 run, capped off by a three by Jordan Murdock. The KCAC Player of the Year ballooned the lead out to 40-21 with 4:12 to play in the half.
Friends (16-14) pushed the margin to 24 when junior EJ Garnes rained in a three with eight seconds left. Wesleyan received an energy boost when sophomore Nate Leach drilled a step-back trey at the buzzer, making the score 52-31 in favor of the Falcons.
In the second half, Kansas Wesleyan (16-13) turned to its defense. Following a 63 percent shooting half, the Falcons cooled off to 37 percent with 14 second-half turnovers. KWU roared back to a six-point hole with 6:57 to play in the game. Murdock powered his way to the rack, drawing a foul on Wesleyan senior Raul Neri. Neri didn’t agree with the call and ended up with a technical foul, fouling out of the contest and leading to four free throws to allow the Falcons to go ahead 69-59.
The Coyotes didn’t flinch, taking their first lead, 70-69 following an 11-0 explosion, ending with a bucket by freshman Marquis Kraemer. Freshman Tanner Sloan had the biggest make of the game, nailing a trey from the top of the key to put the Falcons ahead, 72-70 with 2:47 left.
Kansas Wesleyan had a chance for the tie when junior Rashun Allen went to the free throw line. He made one of two with 1:39 remaining, but the Coyotes couldn’t get over the hump.
Friends was paced by Murdock, who finished with 27 points with one field goal coming in the second half. Garnes racked up 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Junior Atir Cherne added 16 for the Falcons, who await the winner of Oklahoma Wesleyan and Tabor.
Senior Terell Gandy closed out his Coyote career with 18 points. The KCAC Defensive Player of the Year was tabbed as the Salina Ortho Player of the Game, blocking two shots and recording one steal. Neri added 13 points, Allen chipped in 11 and junior Ernest Carter poured in 11.
The Coyotes finished with their most wins in a season since 2008-09. KWU’s 14 conference wins were the most since 2006-07. KWU looks to build on its first KCAC postseason tournament since 2009-10.