Anthony Monson was more than pleased with the way his Kansas Wesleyan basketball team played Saturday night.
But the success, he said, was a byproduct of what transpired in the days leading up the Coyotes' 89-77 Kansas Conference victory over McPherson inside Mabee Arena.
"You've got to believe that you're good but belief comes from preparation and we've had a great week of preparation," he said. "These guys really focused on what we wanted to do scouting report-wise against some really talented players.
We really tried to make things difficult for (McPherson) and it helped us get out to that fast start and we just kind of rode that the rest of the way."
That fast start was a 14-0 burst that came after McPherson scored the game's first three points and featured seven consecutive points by Cory Kaplan (SO/Merritt Island, Fla.). The Coyotes ended the first half on a 13-4 run, led 52-32 at the break and the Bulldogs got no closer than 11 (88-77) in the second half.
Wesleyan improved to 6-0 overall (2-0 in conference play) as five scored in double figures led by Kaplan and Jun Murdock (SO/Wichita, Kan.) with 16 points apiece while AJ Range (SR/Junction City, Kan.) had 13 and Marcel Dean (SO/Tucson, Ariz.) and Alex Littlejohn (FR/Newton, Kan.) 10 each. KWU shot 52.7 percent overall (29 of 55), 7 of 16 from 3-point distance (43.8 percent), and won the rebounding battle 39-31 – Littlejohn with a team-best eight.
Perhaps more impressive, though, was the Coyotes' play at the defensive end where they limited McPherson's top two scorers, Ben Pyle and Travon Gibson, to a combined 10 points on 2 of 17 shooting. They entered the game averaging 28 between them.
"We really executed our game plan and our game plan was focus on Pyle and Gibson," said Kaplan, who also had five rebounds, three assists and a steal. "They both only made one shot so we locked in and did what we needed to do."
McPherson (5-2, 1-1 KCAC) shot 40.3 percent (29 of 55) and was led by Jason Okoro and Josh Rivers with 23 and 18 points respectively.
Kaplan, a 6-foot-6 guard and transfer from McCook Community College, said the team's success comes from rigorous practice sessions.
"We all just compete every day and go as hard as we can," he said. "We've got a good group, we're a family and we all like each other so it's easy to go hard for each other."
Kaplan has been in the starting lineup since the first game and appears to be settling in. He was 5 of 11 from the field, including 1 of 6 from deep.
"I'm just trying to get after it every day and prove myself just like everyone else is trying to prove themselves," he said. "Just continuing to work hard and show them what I can do."
Monson said Kaplan is adjusting to his new team and a new system.
"We haven't seen the best of Cory, I can promise you that," he said. "We're seeing about 30 percent of what Cory's capable of right now. He's a 40 percent 3-point shooter in his entire career, even in juco, and he's still trying to figure out his shot a little bit. You can just see the difference the length and the athleticism makes. He's such a matchup nightmare and he's such a great passer."
The Coyotes face a KCAC gauntlet in the next nine days with games against three of the top four teams in the conference coaches' preseason poll. They play unbeaten Oklahoma Wesleyan on Tuesday in Bartlesville, Okla. before returning to Mabee Arena next Saturday to face Ottawa. They play Southwestern in Winfield on November 29.
Oklahoma Wesleyan was picked second, Ottawa third and Southwestern fourth in the poll.
Monson's sole focus, though, is on the next challenge, which is OKWU.
"We've got to take it one day at a time and we can't too far ahead of ourselves," he said. "We've got to enjoy what we're doing but know it's a 24-game conference season and it's starting to get pretty tough. Both teams are undefeated, it'll be a fun night (in Bartlesville) and we're going to give it everything we've got and see if we can come out of there with a win."