ROCK ISLAND — Illinois Wesleyan outrebounded North Central for the first time in three meetings this season Friday at the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Tournament.
Yet while one leak was being plugged, others sprung up.
The Titans suffered through a horrendous shooting first half and their second-half comeback effort fell short in a 70-64 semifinal loss at Carver Center.
"We competed," IWU coach Ron Rose said. "We just didn't play well enough."
The second-seeded Titans (19-7) lost for the second time in four days to North Central (19-7). Squarely on the at-large bubble for the NCAA Division III Tournament, Wesleyan will have to sweat out the wait until Monday's national pairings are announced.
The third-seeded Cardinals will face top seed Augustana in Saturday's 7 p.m. tournament title game. The CCIW's automatic NCAA berth goes to the winner. Augustana defeated Wheaton, 72-64, in the second semifinal.
No. 15-ranked IWU shot an almost unfathomable 21 percent in the first half as just 7 of 33 attempts found their intended target.
After an encouraging start led to a 7-2 lead, Wesleyan scored a mere five points over the next 12 minutes and was 5 of 26 shooting at one juncture.
Trailing 30-19 with the Titans holding for the final shot of the first half, Brady Rose missed a shot in the lane, snared his own rebound and missed the putback to typify IWU's offensive plight.
"We didn't shoot well," Coach Rose said. "Our best player (Brady Rose) had a tough night. We had some good looks, but they didn't go in. As a result, we had a hard time creating any momentum."
Brady Rose was 1 of 11 from the floor in the first half, 4 of 21 overall and was 13 of 50 (26 percent) in three games against North Central this season.
"It's no secret. We do the best we can against him and hope that's going to be good enough," said Cardinals coach Todd Raridon. "He's a terrific offensive player and a terrific basketball player.
"We've got to give help because they run him off a lot of screens. But some guys we can't help off of because they're good shooters, too."
A Tommy Koth 3-pointer staked North Central to a 37-21 advantage with 17:18 remaining.
The Titans methodically chipped away at the boulder of a deficit.
Senior Jaylen Beasley, who has struggled mightily with his shot of late (2 of his last 21 from 3-point range), drilled two second-half shots from beyond the arc. The second trey sliced the North Central lead to 47-43 at the 8:27 mark.
The Titans later had two chances to cut into a 57-51 Cardinals' lead, but Colin Bonnett missed 3-point tries both times.
"We were in a tough position from the start where we had to grind it out," Wesleyan junior guard Jason Gregoire said. "We had opportunities we could have come back and won the game, but didn't take advantage of them. It was definitely a frustrating night."
Two Gregoire free throws with 36 seconds showing brought IWU within 63-59. But North Central was 7 of 8 at the line down the stretch to keep the Titans at arm's length.
"It was a throwback game to a few years ago when basically anything went," said Ron Rose. "It took us too long to adjust to it. By the time we realized how the game was going to be played, we were already behind. We gave ourselves a chance, but when the ball doesn't go in it wears on you."
The Cardinals were whistled for 12 fouls the entire game. Wesleyan was 11 of 12 at the line but never shot a one and bonus situation foul shot.
Titan nemesis Alex Sorenson was again a considerable thorn with 21 points and 16 rebounds to lead all players in both departments. Connor Raridon added 14 points and Aiden Chang 13 for North Central.
Alex O'Neill topped IWU with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Wesleyan took the battle of the boards, 38-35.
The Titans, whose 33.8 percent shooting performance was their second worst of the season, also received 13 points from Bonnett, 11 from Gregoire and 10 from Brady Rose
The loss continued Wesleyan's mysterious CCIW Tournament miseries. The Titans have never won the four-team event in 11 appearances and are 2-6 in six trips since 2012.
Augustana-Wheaton: Brett Benning's 20 points and 12 rebounds keyed the No. 9-nationally ranked Vikings (21-5).
Wheaton (17-9) erased a 58-44 deficit to forge a 62-62 tie. CCIW Most Outstanding Player Aston Francis scored 26 points for the Thunder but was 8 of 24 from the field and 4 of 13 from 3-point range.