BLOOMINGTON " Illinois Wesleyan's drive to a possible fourth consecutive College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin basketball championship stalled before leaving the garage Wednesday.
North Central built a 12-point second-half lead and made just enough free throws down the stretch to edge the No. 1-ranked Titans, 74-70, before a Shirk Center crowd of 2,000.
"They deserved to win. They were a better team than us tonight," Wesleyan coach Scott Trost said. "We didn't play very well. They outplayed us, outcoached us and outhustled us. Everything. It seemed like they wanted it more."
Dropping to 10-1 in its CCIW opener, IWU saw unranked North Central (10-0, 1-0) remain unbeaten.
The Titans trailed 66-56 with 3:27 remaining before launching a rally. A Cory Jones basket brought Wesleyan within 69-66 with 36 seconds left, and a Keelan Amelianovich shot from the lane cut the Cardinals' lead to 72-70 at the 16-second mark.
North Central's Dan Walton then made one of two free throws to give IWU a chance. The Titans got the open 3-point shot they wanted, but Amelianovich could not connect from the corner and Anthony Simmons' rebound sealed the game for the Cardinals.
"I had to get it off quick," Amelianovich said. "I've hit that shot many times before. I just shot it a little bit long."
Amelianovich missed his final seven 3-point attempts and was 2 of 10 from beyond the arc. IWU went an entire half without a 3-pointer for the first time all season with an 0 of 4 second-half performance and was 4 of 19 overall.
The loss was only Wesleyan's eighth in 75 CCIW games at Shirk Center. The Titans fell to 138-13 in their home since the 1994-95 season.
"It's one game. But we've got to find a way to win," Trost said. "People are telling us how good we are, and we start believing it. We've got to play a heckuva lot better than that."
Simmons' hot start to the second half featured seven points to spark North Central to a 46-34 lead.
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A three-point play by Amelianovich, a Zach Freeman inside shot and an Adam Dauksas driving bucket quickly brought the Titans within 46-41 and energized a stunned home crowd.
But North Central responded and a Simmons 3-pointer at the 9:47 mark pushed the Cardinals' margin back to 12 at 55-43. Simmons led all players with 29 points and 10 rebounds.
"He was hitting those outside shots and it made it hard to guard him because we focus on him playing inside," said IWU forward Chris Jones. "Right now we feel like we're 0-1 not 10-1. It really hurts, especially losing at home. But we'll get through it. We'll battle back."
North Central missed six free throws in the final 2:18 to assist the Wesleyan rally.
"It was a knock down, drag out. We were fortunate to come out ahead," North Central coach Todd Raridon said. "I was hoping it didn't go overtime. I know our kids were dead tired and I was tired."
Normal Community High School graduate Adam Krumtinger added 16 points and Dan Walton 12 for the Cardinals, who hurt IWU with 17 offensive rebounds.
"We had good defense and decent rebounding. We played hard," Krumtinger said. "It's a big win beating the No. 1 team in the nation, but I think we can do it more consistently now. There's no need to celebrate. We've got 13 left in the conference."
Dauksas scored 23 points, Amelianovich 15 and Freeman and Cory Jones 12 each for the Titans, who shot 42 percent from the field and had a season-low of seven assists.
"We didn't do much right at all the second half. Give them credit. They played good defense," said Amelianovich. "We couldn't get into our offensive sets, and we couldn't get the stops we needed."
North Central freshman Chris Drennan, an NCHS product like Krumtinger and Freeman, had four points and four rebounds as one of just seven Cardinals who saw action.
"We had guys diving on the floor we probably haven't had for awhile," Raridon said. "That's something very encouraging. When you go on the road, you need that hustle out of kids."