BLOOMINGTON — Illinois Wesleyan's Brady Rose had his hand exactly where he wanted it — in Aston Francis' face.

Yet Wheaton College had the basketball right where it wanted it — in Francis' hands.

When Francis swished a tightly contested 3-pointer from deep in the corner with one second left in the first half Wednesday at Shirk Center, the evidence was mounting that the Thunder had struck and would continue to do so.

Throwing in 3-pointers with shocking ease and frequency, Wheaton led by nine at the half and finished the Titans off with 15 straight second-half points en route to a 107-95 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin victory.

"I'm a little at a loss," IWU coach Ron Rose said. "My group has competed all year, but we came out low energy and very lethargic. Loose balls, offensive rebounds, hustle plays, they owned them all. It wasn't until we dug ourselves too big a hole we really showed the heart this team has played with all year."

Slipping to 9-3 in the CCIW, the 17th-ranked Titans remain in first place only because of Augustana's Wednesday win at North Central. Augustana and North Central are both 9-4 in league play.

Wheaton (8-4) surged ahead of Carthage (7-5) for fourth in the CCIW. The Red Men lost on the road to Carroll, which plays at Shirk Center on Saturday.

IWU (16-5 overall) did scrap back in the final few minutes led by the inspired play of freshman Grant Wolfe and a late hot streak from Brady Rose.

A Miles Curry rebound basket with 1:47 left brought the Titans within 98-89.

"We knew coming into the game they were a very good offensive team," Wesleyan junior guard Colin Bonnett said. "We kind of let them do exactly what they wanted to do. It comes down to we didn't do what we needed to do to affect those shots."

Francis riddled the Titans for 36 points, including 6 of 13 accuracy from 3-point range.

"I think I have the most gifted (Division III) offensive guard in the country, maybe the most gifted offensive player," Thunder coach Mike Schauer said. "This is a huge win for us. At times, we're a poor defensive team. But I've embraced that this is how this team needs to play."

Wheaton constructed a 28-19 lead on a Kobe Eichelberger 3-pointer at the 9:27 mark of the first half. IWU clawed back within 36-35 on two Bonnett free throws, but the visitors scored the final five points of the half for a 52-43 margin.

The Thunder (15-6 overall) scored the first 10 points of the second half with Francis and Eichelberger nailing 3-pointers. A 10-4 IWU spurt brought the Titans within 13 only to witness Jay Spencer cap a 15-0 Wheaton run on a 3-pointer for an 81-53 bulge with 11:58 to play.

After shooting 60.6 percent in the first half, Wheaton opened the second half hitting 10 of 16 and 5 of 7 from beyond the arc.

"Offensively, we had no pace to what we were doing," said Ron Rose. "They took it to us. They played with a sense of desperation."

Under tight perimeter coverage, Brady Rose did not launch his first 3-point try until the 2:11 juncture of the second half. The younger Rose scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half and became the 41st player in school history to surpass 1,000 career points.

"The frustrating thing is they were going to make it really hard for Brady to get shots and they did," Coach Rose said. "We were supposed to do the same thing to their guy (Francis) and we didn't. It was a different level of focus."

Alex O'Neill scored 14 points and Wolfe a career-high 13 for Wesleyan, which shot 50 percent from the field (33 of 66) but just 24 percent from 3-point range (5 of 21). Bonnett also scored 13 and Jason Gregoire 12.

Wheaton finished 12 of 26 on 3-point attempts (46 percent) and 36 of 66 overall (54.5 percent). Luke Peters and Ricky Samuelson supported Francis with 17 points apiece and Eichelberger chipped in 16.

IWU, which had outrebounded the Thunder 50-32 in a three-point December win, lost the battle of the boards, 40-35. Curry's eight rebounds topped the Titans.

Follow Randy Reinhardt on Twitter: @Pg_Reinhardt


Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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