BLOOMINGTON — Illinois Wesleyan’s next basketball opponent was the final opponent of IWU coach Ron Rose’s playing career.
Saturday’s 3 p.m. nonconference game with Ohio Wesleyan at Shirk Center brings back not so pleasant memories for Rose.
“That was the national championship game as far as I’m concerned. That was probably the two best teams in the country,” Rose said of Ohio Wesleyan’s 106-103 NCAA Division III Tournament Elite Eight win over the Titans in 1988. “I have vivid memories of that last game. Unfortunately, they got us that night.”
The Battling Bishops won the 1988 national championship and have high hopes this season. Ohio Wesleyan is 5-0 and was ranked No. 13 to IWU’s No. 24 in the preseason national poll of d3hoops.com.
“This is the first year they are picked to win their league since that happened (in 1988),” said Rose. “They have a terrific team coming back from last year.”
The Bishops have four players scoring at least 11.8 points per game led by 6-foot-4 senior All-American Claude Gray at 17.6.
“He can score in a variety of ways,” said 6-4 Titans’ junior Andy Stempel. “We have to lock in on defense and do a team job on him.”
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Ohio Wesleyan also features 6-4 sophomore Seth Clark (16.2), 5-7 sophomore Nate Axelrod (15.8) and 6-4 junior Ben Simpson (11.8, 10.6 rebounds). The Bishops have taken 52.3 percent of their shots from 3-point range.
“They have a real dynamic point guard in Axelrod. In our league, I would compare him to Hunter Hill of Augustana. He is their motor,” Rose said. “They don’t have one true low post player. But they’ve got good overall size and they all shoot it.”
The 3-1 Titans are receiving 16.5 points from 6-8 junior Trevor Seibring, 12.8 from 6-1 senior Bryce Dolan, 12.3 from 6-6 sophomore Jaylen Beasley and 11.8 from Stempel.
Ohio Wesleyan lost an NCAA Tournament game to St. Norbert at Shirk Center in 2014. Head coach Mike DeWitt is a former Bishops' player.
“I’ve known Mike for a long time, and I really respect the job he’s done,” said Rose, whose team will return a game in Delaware, Ohio, next season.
“I thought it would be another quality opponent. I didn’t know when I set it up two years ago they would be ranked 13th.”
Marietti, Coyle still out: Titan seniors Mike Marietti (knee) and Ryan Coyle (ankle) remain sidelined.
“It looks like Mike will make it back before Ryan. Mike is making really good progress,” Rose said. “There is an outside chance (he will play) next Saturday. San Antonio (Dec. 18-19 tournament) is our target date for Ryan to maybe get back.”
Follow Randy Reinhardt on Twitter: @pg_reinhardt