BLOOMINGTON — It was a lengthy journey, but the Illinois Wesleyan basketball team made it all the way back Tuesday at Shirk Center.
And then the Titan wheels fell off again.
Erasing a 16-point first-half deficit to briefly lead by one, IWU surrendered 11 straight second-half points as North Central claimed a regular season-capping 83-74 victory before a crowd of 1,100.
"As well as we've executed the last three games, execution killed us," Wesleyan coach Ron Rose said. "We stood around a lot and weren't hard to guard. We didn't execute well enough to create opportunities for each other."
The loss, coupled with Augustana's come-from-behind win over Elmhurst, means the No. 9-ranked Vikings and No. 15 Titans shared the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championship at 12-4.
Augustana wins the tiebreaker and will host the CCIW Tournament on Friday and Saturday in Rock Island. No. 2 seed IWU and No. 3 seed North Central will tangle again Friday at 5 p.m., with Wheaton and Augustana meeting in the second semifinal.
The Titans (19-6 overall) misfired on 10 of their first 11 shots and trailed 20-4 with 11:10 left in the opening half.
"The start really killed us," said Rose. "We had to exert so much energy to come back."
IWU clawed back within seven on a Brady Rose 3-pointer at the 5:06 mark only to watch the Cardinals bolster their margin back to 12.
A Miles Curry 3-pointer with 1:10 showing chopped the Wesleyan deficit to six, and North Central (18-7 overall) took a 40-34 edge into the halftime locker room.
The Titans pulled within one on five occassions in the second half before seizing their first — and only — lead at 54-53 on an Alex O'Neill shot from the lane with 10:07 to play.
North Central broke from a 56-56 tie with 11 consecutive points. Mike Pollack nailed one of his four 3-pointers without a miss off the bench during the flurry,
"I like to see that. I was pleased we had some other guys make plays (other than standouts Alex Sorenson and Connor Raridon) at the offensive end," Cardinals coach Todd Raridon said. "We got the lead back, and we were fortunate we got enough stops defensively and converted our free throws down the stretch."
A Curry dunk and two straight Grant Wolfe 3-pointers closed the gap to 79-74 in the final minute, but the Titans could get no closer.
"We were up and down. We need to stay more consistent," said Curry, who had a career-high 15 points while converting 6 of 7 shots. "We were trailing pretty much the whole game. We got over the hump but fell back down."
Sorenson topped all scorers with 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds, while Connor Raridon totaled 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Pollack chipped in 15 points and Matt Cappeletti 14.
The Titans were haunted by 11 North Central offensive rebounds as the Cardinals posted a commanding 40-25 margin on the boards.
"Offensive rebounds gave them momentum, and they made us pay," Coach Rose said. "As soon as we took the lead we had several breakdowns and they built it back up."
Brady Rose led IWU with 17 points, Jason Gregoire added 11 and O'Neill 10.
The Cardinals shot 52 percent from the floor to 49 percent for Wesleyan. North Central canned 16 of 25 free throws, while the Titans were 8 of 14.