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Illinois Wesleyan eyeing CCIW tournament

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Updated: February 26, 2014 11:07PM

Illinois Wesleyan has won a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin-best 29 men’s basketball championships, including the one it clinched with a 97-88 victory Saturday
at Wheaton.

What the Titans (22-3,
12-2) don’t have is a conference-tournament championship since the event was launched in 2006. They’ll host the 2014 tourney Friday and Saturday in Bloomington, with an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament going to the winner. The top four teams in the CCIW qualify, with Wheaton (17-8, 10-4), Augustana (19-6, 9-5) and Carthage (16-9, 9-5) rounding out the field.

‘‘That is something that’s kind of missing in our trophy case,’’ said coach Ron Rose, whose fourth-ranked Titans figure to be in the NCAA field, regardless of what happens this weekend. ‘‘Illinois Wesleyan has a rich basketball tradition. We’re trying to carry that on and expand on it. This group has been fairly unflappable. They play hard. There are four good teams, and we know we’ll have to play really well to win it.’’

To win the regular-season title outright, Illinois Wesleyan had to hold off a charge by a Wheaton team that closed the season strong. The Titans led 56-39 with 16:58 left, but the Thunder narrowed the deficit to 75-72 and still trailed only 82-79 before Illinois Wesleyan put the game away from the free-throw line. Dylan Overstreet scored a career-high 21 points for the Titans; Tyler Peters led Wheaton with 27 points.

‘‘It’s really a testament to our conference that you play seven weeks and so much is riding on the final game,’’ said Rose, who was named CCIW coach of the year for the second consecutive season. ‘‘It was just a great college basketball game, a great atmosphere with two teams that played extremely hard. We felt fortunate that we were able to come out on top that night.’’

The Titans have a balanced attack, with five players averaging in double figures. Senior Andrew Ziemnik leads the way at 12.7 points per game, and senior Victor Davis averages 11.8. Both were named to the All-CCIW first team, along with Peters, North Central’s Landon Gamble and Carthage’s Malcolm Kelly, all seniors.

‘‘Andrew Ziemnik has really been a young man who has led by example, one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached,’’ Rose said. ‘‘He’s a difficult matchup because of his ability to go inside and out. Victor Davis is the same way. They make a really unique tandem because both of them are about 6-5, 220 or 230, so their ability to go inside and out has really been an advantage on the offensive and defensive ends.’’

North Central No. 2

The North Central men’s track team moved up one spot to second in the Division III computer rankings from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Wisconsin-La Crosse is No. 1 with 217.89 points, followed by North Central at 147.86.

The Cardinals are the favorite in the CCIW indoor-track championships Friday and Saturday at Illinois Wesleyan.

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