SALINA, Kan. – Midland University’s men’s basketball team was anxious to get back on the court after suffering a loss at the buzzer in the season opener on October 19, and the Warriors didn’t waste any time in making up for that one that they let slip away.
The Warriors (1-1 overall) outlasted the (RV) Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes (0-1 overall) 77-72 in a close battle to earn their first win of the season.
“We are really proud of the way our guys competed in all phases tonight against a really good and athletic team on the road,” said head coach Oliver Drake. “Kansas Wesleyan is a really good team and we couldn’t be prouder of the toughness we showed on the glass. We turned the ball over way too much but we are a work in progress. We made plays when we needed them against a national tournament caliber team on their home court. This was a big time road win for our group.”
The Warriors shot 50 percent (27-for-54) from the field and outrebounded the Coyotes 42-27 en route to the victory. Despite 16 turnovers, those stats made the difference in a game in which neither team led by double digits.
The largest lead for both teams in the first half was just four points as no one managed to pull away. Midland took a slim 33-32 lead into the locker room for the halftime break, and it wasn’t until the second half that momentum started to become an important factor.
Kansas Wesleyan used a 14-6 run early in the second half to take the lead and increase it to an eight-point advantage with 13 minutes to play. The three-point shots were falling for the Coyotes as Peyton Hatter, Marquis Kraemer, and James Brooks each knocked down shots from behind the arc during that span.
Shortly after that, junior guard Laurence Merritt went on an 8-2 run of his own to bring the Warriors back to within one point of the lead. A pair of three-pointers for Merritt got the Warrior offense back on track as they closed the gap and never let to grow larger than two possessions again.
The Warriors couldn’t recapture the lead, but kept it close throughout the next seven minutes of the game. The Coyotes led by just one with under four minutes to play, and again it was Merritt who rose to occasion and scored nine straight points and 11 of Midland’s final 12 to put the Warriors ahead.
Merritt knocked down three pointers on three straight possessions to put Midland up 74-71 with two minutes left to play. Brooks and AJ Range kept making shots for the Coyotes as they tried to keep it close, but a Range free throw with 1:53 was the final point Kansas Wesleyan could manage.
Kraemer missed a potential game-tying three pointer on the Coyotes final possession, forcing them to foul. Merritt calmly sank both of his free throws to ice the game and allow the Warriors to escape Kansas with a 77-72 win.
Merritt came off the bench to lead the Warriors with 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field, including going 5-for-5 from behind the arc. The 25 points sets a new career-high for the junior and nearly doubles his old mark of 13.
Bowen Sandquist played 39 minutes and registered 15 points on 5-12 shooting, including three three-pointers. Ryan Williams was close behind and finished with 14 points despite being scoreless from behind the arc.
Freshman Kylan Smallwood and junior Jacob Lenagh each registered their first career double-doubles in the game as Smallwood finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds and Lenagh added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Warriors got production from everyone on Saturday, which will be imperative moving forward. The young team has to trust one another if they want to find success as they get into the rhythm of the college season.
Midland plays on the road again on Wednesday, October 30, in Madison, South Dakota when the Warriors take on the Dakota State Trojans at 7:00 p.m.