BLOOMINGTON — Aston Francis with the basketball in his hand often ends with the basketball in the basket.
That combination burned Illinois Wesleyan on Wednesday at Shirk Center as the high-scoring Francis buried a 30-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Thunder to a 90-88 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin victory before a crowd of 900.
"It was a little isolation play. I heard them calling for a double team, and I saw it coming from the right side," Francis said. "I took one quick dribble, stepped back and tried to get it off before the double team got there."
The loss was IWU's first of the season as the No. 8-ranked Titans slipped to 7-1 overall and 1-1 in the CCIW.
"Disappointing loss, but I can't fault our effort," IWU coach Ron Rose said. "We made a lot of plays to put ourselves in position to win. It was just an unfortunate ending for us."
The defeat stung even worse because of a Wesleyan turnover with 5.2 seconds left. Brady Rose took the inbounds pass on the run behind Wheaton fullcourt pressure and threw wildly trying to pass to Grant Wolfe.
"I think he saw Grant out of the corner of his eye, and he was trying to milk the clock to end it," said the elder Rose. "I put him in a bad position. That's bad coaching."
Ron Rose was second-guessing himself over the final sequence.
"It was a bad play to inbound it, bad strategy at the very end," he said. "You can't let Francis get the last shot. It's on me, not my guys."
Francis' 27 points came on 10 of 21 shooting and 7 of 14 3-point accuracy. The output was actually his lowest in three career games at Shirk. His previous appearances produced 36 and 39 points.
"It's just a great atmosphere. It's always going to be a good game," said Francis, who entered the game averaging 31.7 points. "Anybody who wants to be a good player enjoys playing against the team they have here."
Wheaton (6-2, 1-1) had lost by blowout to Chicago and was upset by North Park in its CCIW opener the past week.
"We've had a real tough week, and you come in here to the eighth-ranked team in the country who doesn't lose here very often," Thunder coach Mike Schauer said. "We were trying to find a little energy. I wanted to see my team fight, and I thought we did that from the word go."
In support of Francis, Nyameye Adom (14 points), Kobe Eichelberger (12), Luke Peters (11) and Tyson Cruickshank (10) were a combined 21.1 points over their collective season averages.
"We were way more balanced," said Schauer. "When Aston has 27 and eight assists, we're going to be pretty good."
The Thunder limited Titan leading scorer Brady Rose to 10 shots with frequent double teams. Rose scored 17 points, Jason Gregoire registered a career-high 21 and Colin Bonnett had 19. Charlie Bair contributed nine points and 12 rebounds.
"It was a deflating ending, but it doesn't come down to one or two plays at the end," Gregoire said. "It's an aggregation of the entire game. We made some bonehead turnovers down the stretch, and we definitely didn't defend the way we wanted to the first half."
Wheaton enjoyed an 83-77 cushion after a Francis 3-pointer with 3:04 to play. The Titans got 3-pointers from Rose and Gregoire and a Matt Leritz reverse layup to forge ahead 85-84.
After an exchange of one free throw, Rose nailed two from the line with 17.5 left for an 88-85 margin. But Wheaton quickly found Cruickshank alone under the basket for a layup to cut the Thunder deficit to one.
The Titans sizzled from long range (14 of 22, 63.6 percent) but missed too many in the lane while finishing at 48.2 percent overall (27 of 56).
Wheaton shot 54 percent from the floor (35 of 65) and converted 16 of 33 from beyond the arc for 48.5 percent, well above its 31 percent mark through seven games.
"They really shot the heck out of it. They played a great game," said Ron Rose. "I bet they had several guys that was their season high in points. We didn't defend the way we needed to."
IWU tossed in 9 of 12 3-point tries and Wheaton 8 of 16 in a frantic first half that saw the visitors take a 50-49 lead into the locker room.
The Thunder committed just three turnovers and had 12 assists over the first 20 minutes. Francis took just one shot and did not score over the initial five minutes but still had 18 points at the break.
Key Wesleyan reserve Doug Wallen was on the bench but did not play after injuring his back in pregame warmups.