KENOSHA, Wis. — The Illinois Wesleyan basketball team has checked off 23 games from its regular-season schedule, yet much will be decided by the final two.
“It comes down to a culmination of three months’ work,” said IWU coach Ron Rose, whose team meets Carthage at Tarble Arena on Saturday in a 7 p.m. College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin game. "In a league as competitive as the CCIW, it's not unusual there's a lot to be played for in the final week."
The No. 23-ranked Titans lead the CCIW at 11-3 and are 18-5 overall. A win over the Red Men would clinch a share of Wesleyan’s first conference championship since 2014.
“The only way you can assure you are going to win the title outright is to win two games,” Rose said. “It’s a good position to be in, but we’re taking absolutely nothing for granted knowing the two teams we have to play yet.”
Augustana and Wheaton are tied for second in the CCIW at 10-4 with North Central at 9-5. IWU meets North Central on Tuesday in the regular-season finale at Shirk Center. Those four teams have clinched the four spots in the CCIW Tournament Feb. 23-24.
At 12-11 and 7-7 in conference play, Carthage has been eliminated from postseason consideration. The Red Men do own a 74-72 win over Wesleyan on Dec. 2 in Bloomington as a Brady Rose 3-point attempt at the buzzer rimmed out.
“We thought we played terrible basketball, especially defensively. It was one we should have won and could have won,” said Titan junior guard Jason Gregoire. “But that was a long time ago. We’re a better team and they’re a better team. It’s going to be a good matchup.”
IWU is looking for the return of its 3-point accuracy. Over the past four games, the Titans are shooting 29.8 percent from beyond the arc. IWU had been over 40 percent in each of the six contests prior to that.
“Offensively, we haven’t clicked. We’ve missed a lot of shots that are good shots for our team,” Ron Rose said. “Yet we’ve been able to beat a couple teams that have been playing very well (Carroll and Millikin).
"Our defensive energy has been really great. That’s the biggest reason we’ve been able to win the last two games.”
Carthage did not have 6-foot-5 sophomore Kienan Baltimore for the first Wesleyan game. Baltimore has averaged 17.9 points in 10 games since returning to action.
Jordan Thomas, a 5-11 junior, is the leading Red Men scorer at 18.8. Thomas set a CCIW record with 11 3-pointers (in just 13 attempts) on Feb. 3 while scoring 40 points against Millikin.
Brad Kruse, a 6-4 senior, adds 16.1 points and 6-11 sophomore Brad Perry 10.0. Kruse is the leading rebounder at 7.1.
Brady Rose is averaging 22.0 points and Colin Bonnett 12.5 for the Titans.
The first IWU-Carthage game featured a near skirmish and some words exchanged in the postgame handshake line.
“I hope that was the result of two competitive teams,” Coach Rose said. “We’ve got enough to worry about and play for than what happened two months ago.”