BLOOMINGTON - Ron Rose hopes to see solid ballhandling, crisp passing and good shot selection tonight, all factors in playing sound offensive basketball.
Yet, the first-year Illinois Wesleyan coach will be focused even more on his Titans when they do not have the ball in a 7:30 nonconference game against Saint Xavier at Chicago.
"We need to do a much better job of defending people," Rose said. "We need to build that confidence that we can stop people. I think that's the biggest area I'll be looking at is how hard we compete on the defensive end."
The Titans (4-1) will be facing a team averaging 80.2 points per game. IWU gave up 87 points in its only loss, an 87-74 decision against Ohio Wesleyan on Friday in the Mike Rokicki Community Versus Cancer Challenge at DePauw. While the Titans bounced back with a 92-50 drubbing of Judson Saturday, Rose is still concerned about his defense.
"We can't give them their average. We can't let them score 80 points," Rose said. "We're going to have to do a good job defensively and really rebound the basketball."
Rebounding has been a plus for both teams. The Titans are averaging 45.2 rebounds per game to 29.6 for their opponents. Similarly, Saint Xavier (4-2) has a 40.7 to 29.8 advantage on the boards per game.
"It's strength on strength," Rose said of the rebounding. "We haven't created a lot of turnovers, and since we're not taking away a lot of possessions by stealing the ball, it's really important that we only give you one shot. To give ourselves a chance against a team like this, we have to win the battle on the boards."
Saint Xavier has four players averaging 6.0 rebounds or more per game, led by 6-foot-7 junior Dan Bolger's 7.0. Kevin Lowe, a 6-9 junior, adds 6.4, with 6-3 freshman guard Julian Scott and 6-6 sophomore forward Adam Gregoriou each at 6.0.
The Cougars have won four straight after losing their first two games to The Master's College (Calif.) and Cornerstone University (Mich.). They have defeated Redeemer College (Ontario), Trinity Christian, Bethel and Calumet College.
"We had four guys who started last year who are gone," Saint Xavier coach Tom O'Malley said. "We're kind of a young team that's trying to find its way.
"Illinois Wesleyan plays the game well, they shoot the ball well and they have a great inside post player (6-7 senior Zach Freeman). They're certainly a team we have to reckon with."
Zach Freeman leads the Titans with 18.0 points and 12.0 rebounds per game. He is coming off of a 29-point, 16-rebound performance against Judson in which he was 11 of 11 from the field, boosting his season field-goal percentage to .667 (36 of 54).
Twin brother Andrew Freeman has added 14.6 points and 9.0 rebounds, followed by 6-4 junior Darius Gant at 10.8 and 6.0, respectively. Starting guards Andrew Gilmore (9.8) and Mike Harrigan (9.4) also are near 10 points per game.
Saint Xavier is even more balanced, with five players between 10.2 and 14.0 points per contest. Gregoriou, who missed the first three games, leads at 14.0, followed by Scott (12.8), 5-11 guard Paris VonShae Davis (11.0), 6-2 senior guard Chris McCormick (10.3) and Lowe (10.2).