BLOOMINGTON — Requiring a full half to adjust to the aggressiveness of Millikin's defense, the Illinois Wesleyan basketball team found what it was searching for early in the second half Wednesday at Shirk Center.
The Titans reeled off 11 straight points to assume a seven-point edge shortly after halftime and rode Brady Rose's hot shooting to a 78-62 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin victory before a crowd of 900.
"We knew they would be a good defensive team," said IWU coach Ron Rose, whose team shot 43.5 percent in the first half and 55.2 percent in the second. "Millikin brought the fight to us the first half. The second half our guys responded to the challenge and make some of those hustle plays. And our ball movement was much improved."
No. 24-ranked IWU remained atop the CCIW at 6-1 while hiking its overall record to 13-3.
Millikin (8-8, 1-6) had the Titans down 43-39 early in the second half, but the Big Blue hurt themselves with 20 turnovers overall.
"I feel good about the progress we've made in the last year. Teams have to play well in the CCIW to beat us," first-year Millikin coach Mark Scherer said. "Illinois Wesleyan made some adjustments and played an outstanding second half. They are the best team in the league at finding the open man."
Alex O'Neill ignited the Titans' early second-half surge with an inside bucket. Brady Rose and Zach Knobloch followed with 3-pointers, Rose hit a 17-foot jumper and Grant Wolfe tacked on a free throw for a 50-43 lead.
The Big Blue rallied within three before five straight Knobloch points and a Danny Baker three-point play boosted the Wesleyan margin to 58-47.
"Rebounding was the focus coming into the game, and we were not as good as we hoped the first half," said Brady Rose, who was 11 of 15 from the field and 6 of 10 from beyond the arc en route to 30 points and six assists. "We got a lot of good looks the first half but didn't finish. The second half those shots went in."
Knobloch chipped in 13 points, while O'Neill matched that 13 (nine coming in the second half) and snared a career-high 10 rebounds.
"We were clicking a lot better, playing harder and smarter," O'Neill said of the second 20 minutes. "I was a lot more comfortable. I treated it more like a practice instead of a game."
Ron Rose said O'Neill "sometimes goes too fast. When he had his balance and went up stronger, he had more success."
Colin Bonnett added 11 points for IWU, which connected on half of its 52 shots from the floor and had eight less turnovers than the Big Blue.
Zach Fisher topped Millikin with 14 points, while Elijah Henry and Michael Beaty had 12 each.
Both teams held six-point leads in the first half. The Titans led 17-11 but quickly gave up that edge during a 7-1 Millikin spurt.
The Big Blue, which outrebounded IWU 18-11 in the opening half, opened up a 32-26 margin on an Henry dunk with 3:34 showing.
Wesleyan forged a 35-all tie on two Knobloch free throws before two foul shots from Fisher with 11 seconds left sent Millikin into halftime ahead, 37-35.
The start of the game was delayed 32 minutes. It was discovered during pregame warmups that one of the Shirk Center basket standards was cracked and had become loose.
Repairs were completed at 7:18 p.m. and after the teams were allowed time to warm up again, the contest began at 7:32 p.m.