As early as July, Scott Trost called it "one game on the schedule." Turns out he was right. Illinois Wesleyan and Hanover did not play a doubleheader Tuesday night at Shirk Center.
Yet, this was not a run-of-the-mill December nonconference basketball game. The guy in the red suit told us that.
It takes a pretty good matchup to lure Santa Claus to a gymnasium on Dec. 20.
So while Trost dutifully warned his Titans against placing too much emphasis on one game it is what coaches do there was more at stake than one win or, worse, one loss.
IWU lost twice to Hanover last year in a 21-5 season, including an 81-76 defeat at Shirk in March that knocked the Titans from the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Lose to the Panthers again Tuesday, and a "trend" would move awfully close to a "Hanover Hex."
A 72-61 IWU victory prevented that, giving the top-ranked Titans an 8-0 record in the short term, but providing something far more valuable down the road.
That is, the confidence to beat Hanover in March, should the need arise.
"If we so happen to run into them again, we know that we can get them," IWU senior guard Adam Dauksas said.
"It definitely felt good to beat them, to just get that off your mind of losing to them twice in a row like that.
"We didn't play our best game and we still came away with a win. I think that's something we can definitely build on."
IWU played well enough to build a 37-25 halftime lead shooting 62.5 percent from the field — and certainly better than in last year's postseason loss to the Panthers.
Titan junior forward Zach Freeman cradled a box of cookies afterward, but refrained from munching. He had already removed the sour taste from his mouth with a win sparked largely by his 15 points, five rebounds and five blocked shots.
"It (losing to Hanover) was kind of lingering all year, even at the beginning of this season," Freeman said. "We knew looking at the schedule this was just something we were going to have to get done, regardless of what the situation was."
Granted, the "situation" would be magnified in March, and the circumstances different. Hanover's 6-7 starting sophomore center Robby Brown did not play Tuesday because of the flu.
IWU senior guard Matt Arnold, a starter last year, also did not play, serving the final game of an eight-game NCAA suspension.
Still, the Titans outrebounded Hanover (35-24) and held the Panthers to 39.3 percent field-goal shooting. They could not do either last March.
"This definitely adds fuel to our fire," IWU senior center Cory Jones said. "We know this is a beatable team, and that we can beat this team. If we go out and execute and do the things we know we can do, there's no reason why we should lose (if they meet again)."
If not a must win, Tuesday was at least an important one for the Titans, who in 2004 knocked Hanover from the Division III Tournament.
IWU senior Steve Schweer, who provided six points and five rebounds off the bench Tuesday, called it "a good win against a good team," and added, "It should give us more confidence."
Yet, he stopped short of classifying it as essential to a long postseason run.
"I don't think confidence is really a problem with this team," he said. "They've given us problems in the past. But the tournament is a whole other animal. We just have to play at a high level and we'll be fine (regardless of Tuesday's outcome)."
"It's about us. It's about our team and what we need to do," Freeman said. "If we hadn't got the job done tonight, I don't think that would have had an impact on us in the future."
The best thing about Tuesday?
They'll never know.
Randy Kindred is a Pantagraph columnist. To leave him a voice mail, call 820-3402, By e-mail: rkindredyayaypantagraph.