KENOSHA, Wis. - Having coaxed in just one of two, Keelan Amelianovich left the free-throw line upset with himself late in Saturday's College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin basketball game.
Yet, the fact Amelianovich was able to convert one free throw - along with a final possession defensive stand - kept No. 1-ranked Illinois Wesleyan from suffering a second straight upset.
Carthage's Kyle Jeffery missed an 18-footer, and IWU's Cory Jones got his hand on the rebound as time ran out as the Titans escaped with an 80-79 victory before a Physical Education Center crowd of 1,075.
"After the first one, there was nothing else I could do," Amelianovich said of hitting his second free throw with 38 seconds left. "You only need to win by one point. Jeffery was on fire the whole game. It's a good thing he missed the one that counted the most."
The Titans moved to 11-1 overall and 1-1 in the CCIW despite missing six of 10 free throws over the final 4:25. Carthage slipped to 4-8 in its league opener.
"We got the stop we needed to," IWU coach Scott Trost said. "Somehow in the last week we got away from what we do - defense. We have to get down and defend and make it hard on them."
Jeffery scored 25 points and 30-year-old sophomore Malik Imani, the uncle of NBA player Caron Butler, added 21 on seven 3-pointers. Averaging 5.1 points, Imani nailed a 3-pointer to forge a 79-79 tie at the 46-second mark.
"We need to win some ballgames somewhere along the line. We're just good enough to be not quite good enough," said Red Men coach Bosko Djurickovic. "It's frustrating as it could possibly be. We need one of these to get some momentum."
Djurickovic said he was no problem with Jeffery's final shot other than the result.
"The man had a great game. I'll take that shot 10 times out of 10," he said. "If I wasn't coaching, what a wonderful game of college basketball this was."
Seven straight second-half points (four from Zach Freeman) gave the Titans their biggest lead since 11-5 at 72-67 with 6:55 to play.
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A Jeffery 3-pointer at the 2:19 mark brought Carthage within 77-76.
"Jeffery and Imani were on tonight," Jones said. "We could have played better defense, but I'm not going to take anything away from Carthage. A win is a win, especially in the CCIW. We're the three-time champs so everybody is gunning for us. We expect every game to be tough."
Both Jones twins had season highs as Chris Jones was 6 of 6 from the field and scored 15 points and Cory added 14.
Amelianovich led IWU with 16 points, Freeman chipped in 14 and Adam Dauksas 10 as the Titans finished at 54 percent from the field and outrebounded the Red Men, 39-25.
"The road is tough in the CCIW," Amelianovich said. "Hopefully this one will get us on a roll and we can play like we're used to."
Matt Arnold grabbed a career-high eight rebounds and Cory Jones had seven.
Carthage committed just five turnovers to IWU's 13.
"Carthage shot the heck out of the ball," said Trost. "It seemed like we were right there (defensively) quite a few times."
In a defense optional first half, Imani surpassed his season average in the first four minutes and nailed his first five shots from beyond the arc. The Red Men led 35-27 after Imani's fifth 3-pointer and a Keena Johnson inside basket.
Freeman and Chris Jones scored six points each over the half's final seven minutes, and a Dauksas driving layup at the 44-second mark send IWU into halftime with a 45-44 edge. The previous first-half high for a Wesleyan opponent this season was 38 by Puget Sound.
Titans' senior guard Mike McGraw did not play for the first time this season.
"There are not enough minutes to keep everybody happy," Trost said.
IWU assistant coach Dennis Martel did not make the trip because of illness.