BLOOMINGTON — Illinois Wesleyan will have to defend the Division III national leader in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage Wednesday in a 7 p.m. College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin basketball game at Shirk Center.
And the real challenge is that’s two different Wheaton College players.
“They got some guys who can put it up and put it up quick,” IWU junior Colin Bonnett said. “We know what we have to do to make sure we’re in the right position and execute the way we want.”
The flashiest Thunder sharpshooter is junior Aston Francis. The 6-foot-1 Francis is averaging 26.7 points to rank fourth nationally and first in the CCIW.
Francis tops Division III at 4.5 made threes per game and seemingly has no limit to his range while hoisting 246 3-point tries in 20 games.
“You have to pick up Francis at halfcourt,” said Titans coach Ron Rose, exaggerating only slightly. “He will shoot from 35 feet and fading away. He is a tough-shot maker. You can do everything right, have a hand in his face and there are nights he’s going to make those shots.”
The efficiency nod goes to 6-3 senior Ricky Samuelson, who averages 17.1 points and leads the nation at 55.4 percent (51 of 92) from beyond the arc.
“Samuelson has expanded his game. He’s able to put the ball on the floor a little bit more,” Rose said. “We will do what we do. But we certainly have to have an added awareness of where their scorers are.
"You have to have a plan on how you want to try to guard them. At the same time, we’re not a gimmick team.”
A win would move the 17th-ranked Titans another step closer to a conference championship. At 16-4 overall and in first place in the CCIW at 9-2, Wesleyan has North Central (9-3) and No. 14 Augustana (8-4) in hot pursuit.
Wheaton (14-6 overall) is tied with Carthage for the fourth and final spot in the CCIW Tournament field at 7-4 in league play.
The Titans edged the Thunder, 82-79, on Dec. 6 in Wheaton. The difference was a Jaylen Beasley 3-pointer with three seconds remaining.
“It was a heckuva game at their place. Every possession was contested,” said Rose. “It’s safe to say we’re not just a different team, but a much better team. The same thing could be said of Wheaton.”
The Thunder lead the CCIW at 83.5 points per game, but give up 78.2 with a minus 1.5 rebounding margin. Kobe Eichelberger, a 6-5 junior, adds 12.5 points and a team-leading 5.5 rebounds for Coach Mike Schauer’s team.
“Defense has been an emphasis for us all season,” Bonnett said. “This will be a good challenge for us.”
After a loss at Augustana last Wednesday, IWU had its second-half bye from the CCIW schedule on Saturday.
“It was nice to be able to focus in on things we normally don’t have time to practice or spend a little extra time on,” Rose said. “Hopefully it is both physically and mentally a nice little break, and we come out ready to play with energy on Wednesday.”
Wesleyan junior Brady Rose is 23rd nationally and second in the CCIW at 22.4 points per outing. The younger Rose needs 13 points to become the 41st player in school history to reach 1,000 career points.
Bonnett is the only other Titan scoring in double figures at 12.3.