BLOOMINGTON — The Illinois Wesleyan basketball team is historically a tough foe at home, winning nearly 85 percent of its games over the 22 seasons since Shirk Center opened.
Yet the current climate in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin has all home teams on alert.
As IWU prepares to play host to Millikin in a 7 p.m. CCIW game Wednesday, the Titans do so with the knowledge that every team in the conference has already suffered at least one home defeat.
“Winning on the road in the CCIW has been extremely difficult forever,” Wesleyan coach Ron Rose said Tuesday. “This year teams have had more success doing that.”
CCIW home teams have won just 16 of 28 games thus far. IWU’s Shirk Center loss came on Dec. 2 against Carthage, while the Titans have posted road victories at Wheaton, North Central and North Park.
“Normally it’s the other way around and teams defend their home court a lot better,” said Titan junior guard Brady Rose. “We have so many teams that are comparable and competitive. It’s kind of shifted that way.”
The No. 24-ranked Titans (12-3 overall, 5-1 in the CCIW) will need to defend their home court to remain atop the conference. North Central and Wheaton are directly behind at 5-2.
“We just have to give that consistent effort for 40 minutes,” Coach Rose said. “We’ve had some games where we’ve done a lot of nice things offensively and defensively, but we’ve had letdowns at times that have prevented us from playing at our highest level.”
Brady Rose has been playing at a particularly high level lately. He is scoring at a 29.0 clip over the past four games to hike his season average to 22.2.
Millikin (8-7, 1-5 in the CCIW) has undergone drastic roster upheaval under first-year coach Mark Scherer, the former Elmhurst coach who played at Eureka College and Roanoke-Benson High School.
The Big Blue have added six junior college players, highlighted by 6-foot-7 junior Elijah Henry and 6-6 junior DaVante Harrell.
Henry averages 16.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, Harrell adds 12.8 points and 6-4 sophomore Zach Fisher 11.4 points.
“He’s really turned their roster over quickly. But we’re playing an upperclass team even though they may be new to the Millikin roster,” said Ron Rose. “That has allowed them to be competitive right away. Henry is a load. He’s athletic and scores in a lot of different ways.”
Fisher is shooting 51 percent from 3-point range, while Millikin has a team rebounding margin of plus 8.8.
"There are a few returning guys we’re familiar with, but not a whole lot,” Brady Rose said. “Playing them for the first time this year, we’ll have to adjust pretty quickly.”