KANSAS CITY, Mon- Kansas Wesleyan Men’s Basketball hangs his hat on the defense every night. Thursday night’s game against the Avila Eagles was no different for the 18th-ranked Coyotes.
Wesleyan held Avila to 25.5 shooting percent and 39 points as the Coyotes pulled away in the second half for a 61-39 win over the Eagles at Mabee Fieldhouse.
The game marked the first official road trip for the Coyotes this season after they opened the season with six straight home games, followed by two exhibitions last weekend in Colorado against NCAA Division-II competition, who don’t match KWU’s record impaired.
The 39 points is the fewest since Bethel was held to 39 in a 63-39 win on January 20, 2011 at North Newton. KWU limited Sterling to 44 points in a game last season, a low point previously allowed under coach Anthony Monson.
Both teams struggled in the first 20 minutes. KWU led 21-18 at the break but had to use an 8-0 run spanning more than 9 minutes to build a 14-8 lead until Avila made it 14-11 to Coyotes with 7-20 in the first Pass hit half.
The Eagles hung on 11 points for another three and a half minutes as the Coyotes scored seven points to take a 21-11 lead with 4:01 before Alex Littlejohn (SO/Newton, Kan.) layup. Avila scored with 2:57 left and closed the half with a 7-0 run to go three by the break.
“It wasn’t a nice first half,” Wesleyan coach Anthony Monson said on his post-game radio show. “It was one of those things where we just had to grind it out because we weren’t hitting shots.
“We came out with better energy in the second half, still not shooting very well but we were able to get things on the edge, on the basket. We were able to use our length and athleticism and go from there.”
Wesleyan opened the second half with a 10-2 run that was crowned by Cory Kaplan (JR/Merritt Island, Fla.) 17-57 to the left, pushing the Coyote lead to 31-20 and forcing an Avila timeout .
“I’m very happy with how we played in the second half, we scored 40 points, much better than 21 (in the first) and we managed without trying to score a few 3-pointers collect,” said Monson.
Wesleyan’s defense was key in the second half, keeping the Eagles on 21 points on just 7 of 32 shots (21.8 percent) during that period. On the other hand, Wesleyan’s attack improved drastically in the second half, scoring 56.7 percent (17 of 30) over the period.
“We did a really good job just knowing the scouting report and knowing how to guard specific plays and specific actions. I think we did a really good job with that tonight,” said Monson. “We guarded the shooters when needed, outplayed the lads we had to and got it done.
“I thought we could have hit the glass a little better than us tonight due to our size advantage, but give credit to Avila, they fought and fought all night. At the end of the day, conference games are a slugfest and it’s great to be able to win one along the way.”
Wesleyan won the rebound fight 40-36 against the Eagles but conceded 12 offensive rebounds from which Avila only got four points.
Avila came no closer than 10 points the rest of the way, with 14:48 left. A three by Jun Murdock (JR/Wichita, Kan.) put the Coyotes up to 14 with 12:45 to go, and Alex Littlejohn’s bucket with 4:15 to go put the Coyotes up to 21 at 55-34.
Littlejohn was one of three Coyotes to score 12 points to join Murdock and Thurbil Bile (JR/Centennial, Colorado) in leading the way for the Coyotes. Littlejohn also recorded his fifth double-double in six games with 11 rebounds. Bile had 10 of his 12 points in the second half.
A monumental task awaits the Coyotes Saturday at Mabee Arena when KWU hosts No. 8 Oklahoma Wesleyan in a 7 p.m. tap. It will be the fifth meeting in just over a year between the two teams, who have met again twice in the regular season, once in the KCAC tournament, and in March in the NAIA opening round finals at Hartman Arena.
“Obviously if we want to keep winning, we have to come back home and shoot the ball better,” said Monson. “They (OKWU) will do many of the same things that happened to us tonight. They’ll burden us with the train and so on.
“We’re going to enjoy this tonight, watch a movie about Oklahoma Wesleyan, and try to figure out a way to beat these guys.”