UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — Despite 31 points from Brady Rose, the No. 25-nationally ranked Illinois Wesleyan basketball team saw its season end after a 72-68 loss to No. 23 Wooster in the first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament on Friday.
"It was a competitive game from the tip," said IWU coach Ron Rose. "It was two really good basketball teams that both played incredibly hard."
Collin Bonnett and Alex O'Neill added 11 points apiece for the Titans, who closed the campaign at 19-8 while Wooster improved to 22-6. Wooster will face host John Carroll in the second round on Saturday.
O'Neill also grabbed 14 rebounds to help Wesleyan win the battle of the boards, 44-37.
The Fighting Scots, who outshot IWU .407 to .377, received 20 points from Danyon Hempy, 15 from Reece Dupler and 10 from Trenton Tipton. Dupler made seven of eight free throws the final 1:47. Alex Baptiste grabbed 12 rebounds.
"They are a smart team," Ron Rose said. "We didn't want to foul (Dupler), but we were at the stage where we couldn't let time run off the clock. They were smart enough to get the ball into the hands of a kid who is a really good free throw shooter.
"They are a good team. There is a reason they've had the success they've had. It was a game where if we played those guys 10 times, it's probably going to be five and five. It was two evenly matched teams and they just happened to make a few more plays."
Wooster bolted to an 8-0 lead before the Titans answered with an 11-0 run featuring nine points from Brady Rose, who finished 10 of 20 from the field, 5 of 11 from 3-point range and 6 of 7 at the free throw line.
The remainder of the first half included four ties, but 13 points from Hempy gave Wooster a 35-31 cushion at intermission. A 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, Hempy finished 7 of 14 from the field, 3 of 5 from 3-point range and 3 of 4 from the line.
"He's really good," Ron Rose said. "He's long and bouncy. They made several shots at the end of the shot clock and I think he might have hit three of them where we really guarded well."
Hempy's one-man 7-0 run in the second half put the Fighting Scots on top, 51-41, with 12:56 left. Wesleyan countered with an 11-3 run that included seven points from Brady Rose to make it 54-52 with 8:37 remaining.
"The second half, we had a short period of time where we turned the ball over, which is very uncharacteristic of our team," said Ron Rose, whose team finished with 13 turnovers. "We just didn't finish a few plays."
IWU never cut the gap below two the rest of the way although two Grant Wolfe free throws with 8.8 seconds left made it a one-possession game at 71-68.
Wesleyan went 15 of 23 (65.2 percent) at the free throw line with three of its misses coming in the final 5:32. Six of IWU's 61 shots were blocked.
Adversity found the Titans with 16:12 left when Jason Gregoire injured his ankle and did not return.
"That was really big," Ron Rose said. "I'm not trying to take anything away from Wooster, but losing Jason down the stretch was big because you can see this entire semester what he has meant to the team in terms of toughness plays. He does all those things that help you be a better team."
Gregoire finished with two points, one rebound and one steal in 15 minutes.
"I'm exceedingly proud of this group," Ron Rose said. "Preseason, we were picked fourth in the league, shared the conference championship and had an opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament.
"We represented Illinois Wesleyan with class and had a chance to win. The disappointing part is I really do think this team was capable of advancing. It just didn't happen tonight."