BLOOMINGTON — A basketball game that featured 50 fouls, 61 free throws and four technicals may not have delighted the 800 spectators at Shirk Center with its elegance Wednesday.
Andy Stempel certainly didn't mind. In fact, the Illinois Wesleyan senior reveled in the grit, grime and muck of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin matchup with Elmhurst.
"I really like physical games. It brings out the best in me," said Stempel, who matched a season high with 21 points in the Titans' 87-60 victory. "Maybe it's something about the competitive edge. If someone makes me mad, maybe I get into the game a little more."
IWU (15-6 overall) moved past North Central into fourth in the CCIW at 7-5.
"It was clear Elmhurst wanted to make it a physical game," Titans' coach Ron Rose said. "It was important to try to win every possession you could because it was a grind-it-out, ugly game. There were a lot of fouls called, but there were a lot of fouls committed."
A 9-3 Wesleyan surge that featured five points from Trevor Seibring extended a three-point first-half edge to 27-18.
"After the first five minutes, we played some solid defense," said Rose. "We didn't give Elmhurst easy looks and were able to extend the lead."
A Jaylen Beasley jumper from the wing gave the Titans 41-29 advantage with 32 seconds left in the first half. With Elmhurst holding for the final shot, Beasley stole the ball and passed ahead to Colin Bonnett, who beat the buzzer with a fast break layup for a 14-point bulge.
Wesleyan held a 53-33 second-half margin before the Bluejays (6-16, 2-11) rallied within 56-46 on a run capped by a Austin Brown 3-pointer.
The Titans quickly countered with a Bonnett 3-pointer, two free throws each from Bonnett and Stempel and a Stempel driving bucket set up by a Seibring offensive rebound.
"Stemp did a great job finding his spots, and we did a great job getting him the ball," Rose said.
Elmhurst clawed back within 67-53, but IWU outscored the Bluejays, 20-7, the rest of the way.
"I'm glad I wasn't a fan watching it. It really didn't have a lot of flow to it," said Elmhurst coach John Baines, a graduate of Wesleyan and University High. "We've got young guys trying to learn how to play hard without fouling. That's easier said than done. That's not where we are right now.
"We've got talented players. I've just got to teach them better."
Seibring chipped in 16 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Bonnett added 14 points, while Beasley also reached a career best in rebounds with 10 as the Titans earned a 40-37 edge on the boards.
Freshman Derek Dotlich topped Elmhurst with 19 points and Ryan Patton had 14. The Bluejays shot 32.1 percent from the field to 47.5 for the Titans.
Elmhurst's 18 turnovers were twice as many as IWU's nine.