If Saturday night's men's basketball game had worked out the way Wheaton College hoped it would, the Thunder would have defeated No. 4-ranked Illinois Wesleyan to earn a share of the CCIW championship and host the league tournament next weekend.
Instead the visiting Titans led almost the entire game, taking a 97-88 victory before a near-capacity crowd at King Arena in Wheaton.
Contact information ( * required )
"We need it to be high-scoring," Thunder coach Mike Schauer said. "You're not going to stop them. We didn't want it to be 97, but you're not going to stop them, so I knew we needed to score. The pace of play I didn't mind. That was OK. We just couldn't quite ever get them under control."
The Titans (22-3, 12-2) started quickly, taking an 11-2 lead. The Thunder (17-8, 10-4) fought back to go ahead 31-30 with 5:23 left in the first half on Peter Smith's 3-pointer, but the lead lasted just 68 seconds, and Illinois Wesleyan had a 9-point advantage again at halftime.
"I thought our guys competed," Schauer said. "One, they're great. They're a fantastic basketball team. Very deep, well-coached. I congratulate them for their season and their performance.
"I thought our guys really battled. We got down early and it kind of stayed there, even though we got up by 1 in the first half and cut it to 3 a couple of times in the second half, it kind of stayed at that gap the whole game. We couldn't fight our way through it. So I'm disappointed and we'll see if we can kind of bounce back and compete again next week."
The Titans started the second half as well as they started the first, leading 56-39 with 16:58 to play. Again the Thunder fought back, cutting Illinois Wesleyan's lead to 75-72 with 6:41 to go on Brayden Teuscher's two free throws. But the Thunder never could get closer than that.
"We scored," Schauer said. "Usually if we get 88 we win. We just couldn't stop them. I thought their depth hurt us. We got fatigued at some point and they just had fresh, talented people coming in every minute."
One reason for the scoring was production at the free-throw line. Both teams went into the double bonus midway through the second half, and the Titans made 34 of 43 free throws to keep the lead. Wheaton made 22 of 33 free throws and also hit 10 of 22 from 3-point range.
Senior Tyler Peters led Wheaton on senior night with 27 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
"He's a great player," Schauer said. "I hope he gets to be our player of the year. I think he's the best player in our league."
Teuscher added 19 points, Caleb DeMoss had 15 and senior Nate Haynes scored 11 for the Thunder.
Dylan Overstreet's 21 points led the Titans.
Follow Orrin on Twitter @orrin_schwarz