NAPERVILLE — Matt Arnold lost just about everything Tuesday when a fire ravaged his off campus Bloomington residence.
His jump shot survived.
Arnold's 3-pointer with 1:17 remaining gave No. 8 Illinois Wesleyan the lead for good, and the Titans held on for a crucial 91-88 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin victory over No. 14 North Central Wednesday before a crowd of 1,200 at steamy Merner Fieldhouse.
IWU rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit to hike its record to 16-3 overall and 6-3 in the CCIW.
"I've never had to go through anything like this. Everything I owned is gone. But it's OK. No one was hurt," said Arnold of the blaze. "It's been difficult. It will take awhile to recover from that."
Arnold's third successful 3-point shot in as many attempts put Wesleyan ahead 85-83.
"I wasn't that open," said Arnold. "But I had a lot of confidence."
"Matt has had a tough year," IWU coach Scott Trost said. "He's a tough, hard-nosed kid. I'm so happy for him and all our guys."
Four Zach Freeman free throws and a basket from North Central's Adam Krumtinger put the score at 89-85. Cardinals' senior Ray Vicario then tossed in his seventh 3-pointer from the corner to cut the Wesleyan lead to one at the 24-second mark.
Keelan Amelianovich made one of two free throws, Vicario missed a wild 3-point try and one Freeman free throw with nine seconds remaining gave IWU a 91-88 edge.
Adam Teising missed a free throw with 4.4 seconds left and the ball went out of bounds off Wesleyan with 1.1 seconds showing. Vicario's desperation 3-point heave at the buzzer was off the mark.
"The kids didn't quit," Trost said. "Keelan was great, Zach had some big rebounds and free throws and Matt's three was huge. That's what it takes, a total team effort. I'm proud how we responded."
The Titans had a lot to respond to as North Central (15-4, 4-4) connected on 15 of its first 17 second-half shots and enjoyed an 80-68 cushion after a Teising three-point play with 8:43 remaining.
Wesleyan fought back with 12 straight points to forge an 80-80 tie on an Arnold 3-pointer, a Cory Jones rebound basket, a Freeman inbounds lay-in, an Adam Dauksas 3-pointer and another Jones bucket off a rebound.
"Once we got a couple stops and a couple great rebounds from our big men, that fed our fast break," said Amelianovich, who was 6 of 11 from 3-point range and led the Titans with 28 points. "The big thing was how we worked the ball around, and Matt's 3-pointer was absolutely huge."
North Central hit just 3 of 10 shots down the stretch but still finished at 66.7 percent for the second half (18 of 27) and 59.6 percent (34 of 57) overall.
"You hope psychologically you have a killer instinct, but we didn't show that," Cardinals' coach Todd Raridon said. "Against a good club like that, you can't let your guard down and that's why. We opened the door a little and they barged through."
North Central junior Anthony Simmons scored 28 points before fouling out at the 47-second mark. Simmons had 29 in the Cardinals' win over IWU Jan. 4 at Shirk Center. Vicario added 23, Krumtinger 15 and Teising 12.
Freeman contributed 20 points and 11 rebounds as Wesleyan outrebounded its opponent for the 25th straight game dating back to last season, 35-24.
Dauksas chipped in 14 points and seven assists and Jones had 10 points and six rebounds before fouling out with 3:02 to play.
If Trost had a favorite statistic, it may have been IWU's measly two second-half turnovers. The Titans had a season-low eight total and shot 54.8 percent from the field (34 of 62).
IWU trailed by nine twice in a fast-paced first half at 25-16 and 44-35.
The Titans closed the half on a needed surge as Amelianovich nailed a 3-pointer, Jason Fisher turned a steal into a layup and Amelianovich scored from inside - all in the final minute as IWU trailed 44-42 at the break.
Vicario keyed North Central's 7 of 12 first-half shooting from 3-point range by connecting on 4 of 4 from beyond the arc.
The Cardinals finished 10 of 20 from 3-point range. Wesleyan was 11 of 20.
IWU reserve forward Steve Schweer left the game at the 13:16 mark of the first half and did not return after a collision with Simmons gave Schweer a bloody nose.
According to Wesleyan trainer Bill Kauth, Schweer suffered a broken nose.
The game began 75 minutes after its scheduled 7:30 p.m. start. The officials were late arriving for the 5:15 p.m. preliminary game pitting the IWU and North Central women's teams.