BLOOMINGTON — The situation has become familiar for Illinois Wesleyan’s basketball team: a close game with two minutes to play, victory within reach.
Lately, such contests have slipped from the Titans’ grasp. So when Millikin cut a 15-point IWU lead to 76-72 with 1:51 to go Thursday night, Coach Ron Rose’s team might have said, “Here we go again.”
Instead, led by senior guard Brady Rose, the response seemed to be, “Not tonight.”
The younger Rose scored 27 points, including 11 in the final eight minutes, as the Titans secured an 84-72 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin victory.
“I give our kids credit. They cut it to four and we really responded and made some critical defensive stops,” Ron Rose said. “Then we made our free throws.
“We’ve had a lot of games that have flipped the other way. But this team hasn’t wavered in their belief that we’re a good team and we’re going to win these games. A lot of teams that lose some close games start questioning themselves. This team hasn’t.”
Brady Rose had all five points in a spurt that had the Titans in front, 72-62, with 3:55 left. However, Millikin had a 10-4 run over the next two minutes, fueled by 3-pointers from brothers Calvin and Zach Fisher.
IWU (12-8, 5-6) held Millikin scoreless the rest of the way while making 8-of-8 from the free-throw line.
“We’ve had a lot of games like that where it’s just a matter of a few possessions here or there that decide the outcome,” Brady Rose said. “We had a few go our way early and we haven’t lately. It was good to get those stops down the stretch.
“Our coaches have a tremendous amount of confidence in us. They do a good job of keeping us positive. I think we know we still have a lot left in us and we can still do something special.”
IWU started the night in fifth place in the CCIW and is chasing a top-four seed in the six-team conference tournament.
Senior Colin Bonnett added 13 points for the Titans and is within one point of 1,000 for his career. Jason Gregoire chipped in 11 points and three assists, while Charlie Bair had 11 points and eight rebounds.
Millikin (10-10, 4-8) was led by Zach Fisher’s 16 points. Calvin Fisher added 11 and Elijah Henry 10.
“We felt like if we got it down to within five in the last five minutes, the pressure would switch to Wesleyan. It’s important for them to win games here,” Millikin coach Mark Scherer said. “We did that, so I was really proud of our guys.
“I thought we showed a lot of heart, especially how young we are. But to give them credit, we had a couple of looks at the basket down four and it didn’t fall for us and Rose made his shots. I felt like that was the big difference. He played like a fifth-year senior and a great player.”
The Titans shot 57.7 percent from the field in the first half, sinking 15-of-26 shots while building a 46-38 halftime lead. Millikin had 48 percent accuracy (12-of-25) in the opening half and both teams were solid at the free throw line. IWU made 12-of-16 and the Big Blue 11-of-15.
Millikin committed five turnovers in the first five minutes of the second half, allowing IWU to stretch its lead to 58-43.
“Turnovers have been our Achilles heel,” Scherer said. “We turn the ball over too much to win against quality teams. We’re working on it and trying to find the right combination.”
The Big Blue ended with 17 turnovers, six more than IWU. The Titans were 22-of-28 from the foul line and Millikin 17-of-22 in a game with 46 fouls.
“The whole game felt a little bit like a grind-it-out game, even the first half when we built our lead,” Ron Rose said. “There wasn’t a great flow to what we were doing.
“This is the first game in eight days. We had a lot of practice time and I think this group is really focused and determined to finish the season on a positive note.”
Millikin women top North Central
DECATUR -- The Millikin women's basketball team defeated North Central College 81-67 on Thursday at the Griswold Center.
Millikin opened the game on a 10-0 run and never trailed. Millikin led 42-39 at halftime. The Cardinals tied the game at 42-42 for the game's only tie, before Millikin went on a 9-2 run to open the game up. The Big Blue led 61-52 at the end of three quarters and built a 17-point advantage in the fourth quarter.
The Big Blue shot 53 percent (31-for-58) from the field and made 6-of-21 (29 percent) from 3-point range. North Central shot 44 percent (28-for-64) and made 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) from 3-point range. North Central won the rebounding battle 37-36.
Jordan Hildebrand and Aubrey Staton each scored 20 points for the Big Blue (7-13, 3-7 CCIW). Hildebrand had a team-high nine rebounds. Yanni Saddler scored 14 points followed by Briana Anthony with 13.
Lyndsay Brennan and Page Desenberg each scored 17 points for the Cardinals (6-15, 4-8 CCIW).
Millikin will host Carroll University on Saturday at 5 p.m.