The Illinois Wesleyan basketball team hopes to pack short memories and accurate shooting for its trip to Rock Island on Saturday.
Fresh off a 90-88 loss at the buzzer to Wheaton on Wednesday at Shirk Center, the No. 8-ranked Titans face No. 3 Augustana in a 7 p.m. College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin early season showdown at Carver Center.
“I really like these guys’ mindset. They’re competitive and they play hard,” IWU coach Ron Rose said. “It’s strictly a matter of how well do you play, and we will have to play well. I don’t think the result Wednesday will have any bearing on Saturday night.”
The Titans are 7-1 overall and 1-1 in the CCIW, while Augustana is 6-1 and 1-0, respectively.
Rose and Augustana coach Grey Giovanine both still question playing crucial conference games in early December. That was made necessary two years ago when Carroll swelled CCIW membership to nine and the conference schedule went from 14 to 16 games.
“I wish we could figure something else out. It’s so early,” said Rose. “You were used to having 14 conference games the second semester. Everyone got in that groove. In year three, it’s still an adjustment. It still feels odd on Dec. 8 we’ll be playing our third conference game.”
“I’m still struggling to wrap my head around it,” Giovanine said. “My whole career it’s been nonconference then conference. All of a sudden, games that were normally in mid-February are now in December.”
IWU, which has lost its last four road games against Augustana, shared the CCIW regular season crown with the Vikings last season.
“Wheaton is an NCAA (Tournament) caliber team, and Augustana is clearly an NCAA caliber team,” Rose said. “These games matter when you aspire for something like that.”
The Vikings boast four players scoring at least 12 points per game in 6-foot-1 senior Nolan Ebel (17.3), 6-4 junior Pierson Wofford (14.1), 6-2 senior Chrishawn Orange (12.9) and 6-6 senior Brett Benning (12.3).
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Giovanine said. “We’ve had to integrate a player who missed last year (with injury) in Pierson. We have a veteran team, but I still think we’re evolving.”
The Vikings alternate 6-11 junior Micah Martin and 6-9 junior Donovan Ferguson at center. The two combine to average 11.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.
“They have a veteran group that has logged a lot of minutes and had a lot of success,” said Rose. “They have unique size at our level. When you go to Augie you don’t have to just have to play well, you have to play tough.”
The Titans will try to match that muscle with 6-9 junior Alex O’Neill and 6-7 sophomore Charlie Bair in the starting lineup and 6-6 senior Danny Baker and 6-6 freshman Matt Leritz off the bench.
“These are the kind of games you want to be a part of,” Bair said. “It’s the same type of atmosphere as here. Their fans are going to be heckling just like our fans do.”
Brady Rose, a 6-3 senior, paces the IWU scoring at 21.0 per outing with 6-4 senior Jason Gregoire at 13.0, 6-4 senior Colin Bonnett at 11.6 and Bair at 9.1 and a team-best 8.1 rebounds.
Titans Doug Wallen (back) and Baker (knee) are questionable with injuries.