Kansas Wesleyan coach Anthony Monson succinctly summed it up best.
"We showed the heart of a champion tonight," he said on his postgame radio show moments after the Coyotes' heart-stopping 72-69 come-from-way-behind Kansas Conference victory over Bethel on Wednesday night inside Thresher Gym.
KWU trailed 58-43 with 10½ minutes left but stormed back led by Thurbil Bile and Jun Murdock. Bile scored 12 of his game-high 20 points in the final 10:09 and had a game-best 12 rebounds. Jun Murdock scored seven of his 15 points the final 8:06 as the Coyotes improved to 14-5, 11-2 in the KCAC.
"You've got to find ways to win these types of games," Monson said. "Sometimes it was like old-school basketball where you just get out of the way and let your best players make plays. You've got to give these guys a ton of credit for not giving up."
It was gargantuan struggle from the get-go, though. Bethel raced to a 16-2 lead out of the gate and had a 40-30 halftime advantage after the Coyotes scored the final four points of the half.
The Threshers appeared to be in control leading 64-52 with just over seven minutes remaining and had a 66-58 advantage with five minutes left, but it all Coyotes the rest of the way.
KWU caught up on the strength of a 10-2 run, Murdock and Bile scoring four points each and Alex Littlejohn's basket tying it 68-68 with 2:37 remaining.
A Carmelo Yakubu free throw with 2:05 remaining gave Bethel a 69-68 lead but Bile's follow shot with 26 seconds left gave the Coyotes a 70-69 lead – their first of the game.
After a time out Bethel's Harper Jonas took a 3-point shot from the baseline, but Bile got a hand on it and the ball went out of bounds. After a lengthy review of the video by game officials KWU was awarded the ball with 4.5 seconds left.
Littlejohn was fouled on the inbounds pass and made two free throws with 3.4 seconds remaining for the final points – the Coyotes ending the game on a 14-3 run. Bethel did not score the final 2:05 and was 1 for 8 shooting the final seven minutes.
Bile was 7 of 8 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free throw line to go along with the 12 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
"If he stays out of foul trouble, he's pretty stinking good for us," Monson said.
It took the Coyotes seven minutes to gain their stride at the start. The Threshers led 21-6 with 13½ minutes left in the half after making 8 of their first 9 shots. Backup post player Gabe Phillips helped calm things down by scoring all nine of his points the first half and had eight rebounds in the contest.
Nine turnovers led to 13 Bethel points the first half, but the Coyotes had just five turnovers in the second half that produced six points.
Wesleyan shot 43 percent (24 of 56) for the game but was 4 of 17 from 3-point range. Bethel shot 41.3 percent (23 of 63) – just 37 percent (10 of 27) the final 20 minutes. The Coyotes won the rebounding battle 36-35 after getting outrebounded 20-14 the first half.
Yakubu and Jonas led Bethel (9-10, 6-7 KCAC) with 13 points apiece.
"I'm so happy and so proud of these guys," Monson said. "We weren't at our best but we found a way to win."
KWU plays Friends at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Garvey Center in Wichita in the second game of a three-game road trip. The Falcons (7-11, 4-9 KCAC) lost to Evangel 88-75 Wednesday night in Springfield, Missouri.