Elmhurst College breaks through at Wheaton College
Last year Wheaton College had a magical season on its way to the Division III Final Four, but Thunder coach Mike Schauer thinks CCIW counterpart Elmhurst College might be on a similar path this season.
The 10th-ranked Bluejays came to Wheaton with a 14-1 record on the year but also knowing that it's been awfully hard to find much success against the Thunder in recent years. But Elmhurst opened the second half with a 10-0 run for 12-point lead and then held on when Wheaton made a late run before eventually falling 82-75 Saturday night.
"It is nice to get a win here," said Elmhurst coach John Baines, whose team improved to 6-1 in the CCIW and also snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Thunder. "We've played well here before, but this group has not cracked through the last couple years. So it was nice to do it."
The Bluejays have an experienced team this winter, and their only setback so far was a tight loss to first-place North Central College. After junior guard Jake Rhode led a balanced attacked with 24 points, Schauer could only tip his hat at his opponents' strong defense and team depth.
"A couple weeks ago I said I'm not sure we've got a Final Four-caliber team," Schauer said. "My opinion of that has changed. I think Elmhurst is a team that can get there. They're just really good. A lot of accolades go to them."
The Thunder dropped an overtime battle with Augustana on Wednesday and Saturday's loss drops them to 10-6 overall and 4-3 in the CCIW. Against the Bluejays, Anajuwon Spencer led the way with 20 points and Nyameye Adom and Wheaton North graduate Luke Anthony each added 18 points. But the home team was chasing Elmhurst most of the night and never fully recovered from a slow start to the second half in which the visitors used a stifling defense and transition game to extend its lead to as large as 62-45.
"This was a big one. I know it meant a lot to our guys not having won here since I've been here," Rhode said. "Wheaton always has a real tough team and Coach Schauer is one of the best. We're just glad we came here and a got a big team win. They're one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the nation so we made sure we always got a hand up."
The Thunder finished the night 11 for 33 behind the arc and Elmhurst did an especially good job containing Tyson Cruickshank, who made just one 3-pointer.
"I think some of that was fatigue of the week," Schauer said of his team's shooting woes. "But some of that is just that Elmhurst is really good."
In a losing effort Anthony was really good again for the Thunder. The two-sport athlete -- he was Wheaton's quarterback this year and led a potent offense -- did his best to rally the home team in the second half. He scored 13 second-half points as Wheaton pulled to within five points twice in the final minute.
"Luke is a very, very good player," Schauer said. "We're kind of wrestling with his minutes…to get 18 points in 28 minutes today was great. He's really one of the great winners in the history of Wheaton College. We went to the Final Four last year after he transferred and then our football team had a historically good season. A lot of that is Luke."
Lavon Thomas had 14 points and a team-high 10 rebounds for the Bluejays, while Spencer led the Thunder on the glass with 11 rebounds.