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Washington U. too tough for Titans

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BLOOMINGTON — Ron Rose has frequently stated his desire for more consistency from his Illinois Wesleyan basketball team. This was not the brand of consistency Rose had in mind.

“It seemed like every loose ball or rebound they were quicker to the ball and stronger with the ball then we were,” Rose said after Washington University dismissed his Titans, 75-63, Saturday at Shirk Center.

IWU never led and the ultra efficient Bears held a double-figure advantage for the final 13:28 before a subdued crowd of 2,050.

“They were the better team today,” said Rose. “They played a great defensive game. They really got up into us and made every pass and every dribble difficult. They challenged us to make plays, and we didn’t make enough of them.”

Washington committed just five turnovers and connected on half of its 18 3-point attempts while improving to 6-1.

“We had a lot of kids who never played here before. I thought they held their poise pretty well,” Bears’ coach Mark Edwards said. “The key to the game was our defense. This is what we’ve done all year. Defense is something I think this team can build on.”

The Titans built little besides frustration while dropping to 5-3.

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“We weren’t playing with any energy. That’s been a key in all of our losses,” said Wesleyan senior Zach Freeman. “We weren’t having enough effort on defense and getting a hand up. They probably hit, what, 15 3-pointers on us?”

Committing nine turnovers in the opening half to just one for Washington, IWU needed a Darius Gant tip-in at the buzzer to trail 44-32 entering halftime.

“That was the story of the game, them being more aggressive and more in your face. That’s what really got us,” Gant said. “If we could have been a little more tough out there, then I think the game would have been a lot different.”

The Titans opened the second half with baskets from Andrew Gilmore, Freeman and Gant to pull within 44-38. IWU then had three possessions to further whittle their deficit but did not.

“We made a good run. But they answered,” said Rose. “They really executed their stuff very well.”

Andrew Freeman picked up his fourth foul just 59 seconds into the second half. He sat until the 11:35 mark but fouled out on a scramble for a loose ball 1:21 later.

Zach Freeman’s 3-pointer at the 10:38 mark cut IWU’s deficit to 57-47. But the Titans went scoreless for the next five minutes as Washington reeled off 10 straight points.

“For awhile it looked like we ran out of gas and we can’t do that,” Rose said. “We’re working on how hard we compete for 40 minutes. Against really good teams we can’t have lulls or times we don’t concentrate defensively or execute offensively. We had too many of those to beat a team as good as Washington.”

Zach Freeman became the 17th player in school history to reach the 1,300 point mark with 26 points on 10 of 15 shooting. He also led all rebounders with 11.

Gant added 14 points and 10 rebounds. But Titans other than Zach Freeman and Gant combined to hit only 8 of 27 shots.

While the Bears compiled an excellent 19-5 assist to turnover ratio, it was more like a disappointment (nine assists) to heartbreak (16 turnovers) ratio for the Titans.

“That’s due mainly to their pressure,” said Zach Freeman. “They forced us to turn the ball over, and we didn’t put any pressure on them. That’s what happens.”

Troy Ruths was a force inside with a team-high 21 points for Washington. Point guard Sean Wallis added 12 points and 10 assists. Tyler Nading and Nick Nikitas had 11 points each.

“This team decided before the season defense was going to be our impetus,” Edwards said. “We’ve got shooters and we’ve got other pieces. But when you get defense in, everything else seems to work.”

Rose turned to walk-on sophomore Anthony Gunnell for the final seven minutes. In his first varsity playing time, Gunnell had three points, an assist and his team’s only steal.

“We felt like he’s earned the opportunity. He’s been at every practice and worked his tail off,” said Rose. “We were dragging out there a little bit. Anthony is a competitor, and we thought we could use another one of those on the floor at that point. I thought he did an excellent job.”

The Titans turn their focus to final examinations this week before meeting the University of Chicago next Saturday in a 3 p.m. game at Shirk Center. IWU will unveil a banner honoring last season’s national third-place team prior to the contest.

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