There were moments during Saturday night's 71-69 overtime win by Wheaton College over visiting North Central College that gave the impression that one team was going to take control of the game.
Those moments never lasted. Take two big rivals, a capacity crowd of Wheaton and North Central fans at Wheaton's King Arena and cheering that could measure 7.3 on the Richter scale and this game screamed to be decided at the very last moment.
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A free throw by Nate Serenius with 28 seconds left in overtime and a free throw by Brayden Teuscher with just seven seconds left sealed the deal for the No. 25 Thunder (15-4, 5-3 College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin) over the No. 3 Cardinals (16-3, 5-3).
"I'm real happy. I'm so happy we won," Teuscher said moments after Wheaton students rushed onto the court. "It's a real big win in the conference standings and it's a good win for trying to get an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. It's a big rivalry. We got outstanding support (from the fans). It's what college basketball is all about."
Teuscher finished with 19 points. Teammate Tyler Peters had a game-high 20 and Michael Kvam had 14, including a game-high four 3-point baskets.
"Neither team had an advantage, just one team had two points more when time ran out. It was two great teams, and I have so much respect for North Central College," said Wheaton coach Mike Schauer.
The Thunder is having a tremendous season, but it's not being done with a veteran squad. Only two seniors are on the roster.
"We are so young. We're 15-4 and nationally ranked, but people forget that we graduated our four leading scorers last year. We just need to keep getting better," Schauer said.
Wheaton is back in action Wednesday at North Park.
The Cardinals led 63-55 with 2:18 left in regulation thanks to Aaron Tiknis' 3-pointer. What followed was a 9-1 run by Wheaton that was capped off by Teuscher's 3-pointer with 35 seconds left, sending the game into OT.
Neither team had more than a two-point lead in the extra period. A pivotal moment came for North Central when Derek Raridon, who led his team with 18 points, got his fifth foul with 28 seconds left in OT, which set up the free throw by Serenius.
"Derek's our man and he means a lot more than people even see," teammate Charlie Rosenberg said.
Vince Kmiec and Landon Gamble each put through 11 points for North Central, which will try and break a two-game losing streak Wednesday when it hosts Carthage.
"We just need to regain our focus and get back to what made us good -- defense and rebounding," Raridon said.