DECATUR — The Illinois Wesleyan offense was not operating at a sufficiently deadly clip to put Millikin away Wednesday at Griswold Center.
The Titan defense picked up the slack to secure a crucial College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin victory.
Holding the Big Blue below 35 percent shooting from the field, No. 23-ranked IWU posted a workmanlike 65-56 win over persistent Millikin before a crowd of 550.
"It was a grind-it-out win," Wesleyan coach Ron Rose said. "Our offense was not great. But I thought our defense was really good."
The Titans (18-5 overall) remain atop the CCIW at 11-3 and sewed up a berth in the CCIW Tournament.
IWU controls its own destiny for the conference championship with regular-season games at Carthage and at home against North Central remaining.
"They are a really scrappy team. They've come a long way," Titan junior guard Brady Rose said. "We knew they would love to play spoiler and beat us so we had to bring energy."
The Titans enjoyed a 59-41 bulge after a Colin Bonnett fast break bucket with seven minutes left.
But as IWU was going the next three minutes without a point, the Big Blue (11-13, 4-11) fought back within 61-52 on a pair of Elijah Henry free throws at the 4:00 mark.
The younger Rose curled around a screen to sink a 10-foot jumper with 3:19 to play, and Millikin did not slice the Wesleyan advantage under nine again.
Earlier in the second half, reserve center Tyler Burdine shrugged off a shot clock approaching zero to attempt and make his first career 3-pointer.
"I'm capable. I was ready," Burdine said with a smile. "I might retire as the all-time 3-point percentage leader."
Bonnett paced the Titans with 15 points, Brady Rose added 14 and Alex O'Neill 11. The Titans converted just 6 of 24 from 3-point range and shot 42 percent overall (27 of 64) from the floor.
Miles Curry contributed six points — including a spectacular rebound dunk — and a team-high six rebounds for IWU.
"In order to be a championship caliber team, you have to be able to win in different ways. Our defense carried us," said Coach Rose. "Millikin never went away. We had to keep making plays."
Henry's 21 points and 11 rebounds led the way for Millikin, which connected on a mere 2 of 12 from behind the arc. Michael Beaty chipped in 14 for the Big Blue.
"We fought hard from the get go and had great intensity at the defensive end," Brady Rose said.
The Titans earned their 34-24 halftime lead with 10 straight points that ballooned a three-point edge to 27-14.
Millikin did convert 16 of 19 free throws (84 percent), while IWU attempted just eight, hitting five.