Illinois Wesleyan saw its basketball season flash before its eyes earlier this week and got a reprieve.
Sliding off the bubble and into the NCAA Division III Tournament, the No. 25 Titans feel reborn entering Friday’s 4:30 p.m. (CST) first-round game against No. 23 Wooster at the DeCarlo Center on the campus of John Carroll University near Cleveland in University Heights, Ohio.
“It’s definitely a little bit of new life for our team,” junior guard Colin Bonnett said. “At the end of the season, we didn’t finish it out the way we would have liked to. To get a second chance to show what we’re really made of is something everybody in this locker room is very excited about it.”
IWU (19-7) and Wooster (21-6) meet in Friday’s opening game with 20th-ranked John Carroll (23-5) facing Thomas More (23-5) in the nightcap. Friday’s winners square off at 6 p.m. (CST) with a sectional berth on the line.
“We’ve felt all along we’ve got an NCAA caliber team, a team that when it plays at its best can compete with anybody in the country,” said Wesleyan coach Ron Rose. “The key is we need to play at our best.”
The Titans definitely did not accomplish that in two losses to North Central last week, one in the regular-season finale and the next in the semifinals of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Tournament.
Junior guard Brady Rose, a first-team CCIW all-star and the team’s top scorer at 21.0 per contest, hit just 10 of 39 shots and was 3 of 14 from 3-point range in the past two games.
“I’m not going to think too much about it,” the younger Rose said. “It’s a new season. It’s the NCAA Tournament. You’ve got to turn the page and focus on the next game.”
“That happens,” said Coach Rose. “The least of my worries is how Brady is going to shoot the ball and his mindset going into it. If you’re going to be a leader on the team, you have to turn the page and do what the team needs you to do the next game. I fully expect Brady to do that.”
The Titans and Fighting Scots have split two previous NCAA matchups. Wooster prevailed in 2004 and the Titans were victorious in 2012 on their way to a Final Four appearance.
“They’ve got a veteran team with some size,” Ron Rose said. “When you play Wooster, it’s going to be a matter of toughness. They are really physical. They rebound the ball exceptionally well.”
The Scots boast three primary offensive weapons in 6-foot-2 senior Spencer Williams (16.8 points per game), 6-5 sophomore Danyon Hempy (14.6) and 6-2 junior Reece Dupler (14.0).
“Williams is a really athletic combo guard. He’s very quick and attacks the rim,” said Coach Rose. “Hempy is very bouncy and can shoot the ball. Dupler sprained an ankle and was out for a game, but he played 11 minutes their last game.
"Dupler is a tough matchup. He's a 200-pound guard who loves to post up. He's really crafty down there."
The Scots boast a plus 7.2 rebounding margin behind the efforts of 6-7 senior Alex Baptiste (7.4) and 6-7 junior Eric Bulic (7.3).
The Titans are plus 2.3 on the boards with Jaylen Beasley the top rebounder at 6.4. Bonnett is second in scoring at 12.4 and 6-9 sophomore Alex O’Neill adds 9.1.
In his 37th year as a head coach and his 31st season at Wooster, Steve Moore is among 18 NCAA men’s coaches with 800 or more wins at 821-238. The Scots are appearing in their 16th straight NCAA Tournament and have won at least 20 games in 22 consecutive seasons.
Wooster’s record of 476-98 (82.9 percent) in the 2000s is the best among all NCAA programs regardless of division.
Located in Wooster, Ohio, Wooster is a member of the North Coast Athletic Conference.