SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Jill Stephens saved her best for last and saved the Kansas Wesleyan’s women’s team in the process.
Stephens scored nine of her 11 points in the final 6:54 of the game and included a tie-breaking 3-point field goal with 43 seconds left that propelled the Coyotes to a 64-61 Kansas Conference victory over Evangel on Wednesday night inside the Ashcroft Center.
The victory gives KWU sole possession of the fifth place in the conference standings at 9-6 and drops Evangel into sixth at 8-7.
Tied at 59 following an Evangel 3-pointer, Stephens answered with her pivotal 3 that gave Wesleyan a 62-59 advantage. Clinging to a 63-61 lead with eight seconds left Stephens made one of two free throws that forced the Valor to attempt a 3-point shot that missed as time expired.
“You’ve got to give credit to the team on that,” KWU coach Ryan Showman said of Stephens’ shot. “They know how to run the offense; they’ve played with each other long enough that they know where each other’s at. It’s just playing team basketball and Jill Stephens is one of the best in the conference with the ball in her hands behind the 3-point arc.”
Stephens, who shoots 36.5 percent from long range, was 1 for 3 before her decisive shot. Her first 3-pointer of the night came at the 6:32 mark of the fourth quarter and gave the Coyotes a 51-48 lead.
Trailing 43-42 after three quarters KWU used an 11-2 run – the last six points by LaMyah Ricks – to forge a 57-50 lead with 4:41 left. Back-to-back Evangel 3-pointers trim to the lead to one with 2½ minutes left.
Two Angel Lee free throws with 2:06 remaining pushed the lead to 59-56 but Kohnnar Patton’s 3-pointer tied it at 59 and set the stage for Stephens’ dramatic shot.
Another Lee free throw with 22.3 seconds left made it 63-59 but Carson Dillard’s basket got the Valor within 63-61 with 14 seconds left. Stephens’ late free throw was the game’s final point.
Stephens, Lee, and Ricks combined for all 22 of KWU’s points in the fourth quarter – Lee scoring seven and Ricks six. Ricks finished with 16 points, six rebounds and four steals.
“That kid was absolutely incredible tonight,” Showman said of Ricks. “(The six consecutive points) are what got us over that hump. You just felt with that kind of lead and the way we were playing defense it was going to be hard for them to come back and win.”
Lee finished with 13 points off the bench, nine in the second half. Stephens also had a team-best seven rebounds.
The Coyotes shot 31.3 percent (21 of 67) for the game that included 8 of 25 from long range. They limited Evangel to 39.3 percent shooting (24 of 61) including 4 of 24 from beyond the arc. The Valor was 1 of 18 from deep before making three 3-pointers the final 4:11 of the game.
Freshman Kamie Jenkins led Evangel with 15 points and nine rebounds.
“At this point in the season with January turning to February (Thursday) we need to start playing our best basketball,” Showman said. “What was being said in the locker room by the players was ‘here we are, this is how we need to play every game.’ If they do that, we’re going to make a run at this thing.”
After three consecutive road games the Coyotes are back home Saturday for game against McPherson at 5 p.m. inside Mabee Arena. The Bulldogs (6-15, 2-13 KCAC) lost to Friends 85-58 Wednesday in McPherson.