Naperville, Ill. – The Wheaton men's basketball team earned a key 82-71 victory at No. 13 ranked North Central on Saturday night. Tonight's win was the first Thunder victory in North Central's Gregory Arena since 2012 and Wheaton's first win against the Cardinals since the 2013-14 season. Wheaton, ranked fourth in the most recent NCAA Central Region poll, improves to 17-7 overall and 10-5 in CCIW play. North Central, ranked third in the NCAA's regional poll, is now 18-5 on the season with a 10-4 CCIW record.
Thunder head coach Mike Schauer noted of the victory. "It feels great to win. Obviously this is not a just a huge CCIW win, but it also has some national implications as well. I am proud of our guys."
Aston Francis scored 49 points to lead the Thunder tonight. Francis made 10 three-pointers tonight to tie Ben Panner's (2/18/09 at Carthage) Wheaton single-game record for three-pointers. Francis shot 62.9% (17-of-27) from the field tonight, including 10-of-19 from three-point range. He tied himself for the third-highest single-game point total in program history, also scoring 49 points in a home win against North Park earlier this season.
Francis' 49-point effort tonight gives him 779 points this season, surpassing Kent Raymond's Wheaton single-season scoring record of 734 points in 2007-08. Tonight's effort was Francis' ninth career game of 40 or more points, extending his own school record. The Thunder All-American surpassed Marv Johnson (2,044 points) for third place on Wheaton's career scoring list. Francis now has 2,089 career points, a mark that is the 10th most all-time by a CCIW player. His effort tonight gives him 1,366 points in CCIW regular season games, the third-highest career total in conference history.
Luke Anthony scored 13 points off the Thunder bench. He shot 5-of-8 from the field, making two three-pointers. Luke Peters added 10 points with team highs of eight rebounds and six assists. Spencer Peterson scored six points with four rebounds.
Schauer mentions, "I am so proud of my team. They came out and fought in the second half. Obviously Aston had a huge half, but I was so pleased with the shot that really ended the game – a play we ran to Luke Anthony. Luke had a great second half. I could tell he felt confident that if I could run a play to him that he would get that shot. I thought that basket to put us up seven made a huge difference."
The Thunder shot 46.7% (28-of-60) from the field, including 41.2% (14-of-34) from three-point range. North Central had a 38.6% (22-of-57) field goal percentage tonight, including 40.9% (9-of-22) behind the three-point arc. The Thunder shot 60% (12-of-20) at the free throw line and North Central had a 75% (18-of-24) effort at the charity stripe. Wheaton controlled the Cardinals on the glass, out-rebounding the hosts 44-30, including a 10-4 edge on the offensive glass.
Francis made his first four three-pointers in the opening three-plus minutes of the game to give Wheaton a 12-4 lead with 16:54 remaining in the first half. Wheaton led by as many as 10 points in the first half with a 16-6 lead with 15:51 remaining in the opening half. North Central's Aaron Jones made a three-pointer as time expired for halftime to give the Cardinals a 42-36 lead at the intermission. Francis scored 24 of his 49 points in the first half.
North Central led by nine points at 50-41 with 14:35 remaining in the game when Anthony drained a three-pointer to spark a 13-2 Thunder run as Wheaton regained the lead at 54-52 with 10:59 left in regulation. North Central gradually regained the lead and the Cardinals had a three-point advantage at 67-64 on Matt Cappelletti's basket with 5:33 left in regulation.
Wheaton called a timeout after Cappelletti's field goal and Francis quickly hit a three-pointer off the timeout to tie the game at 67-67 with 5:21 left in the game. The trifecta was the first of three three-pointers by Francis to give Wheaton a 73-69 advantage with 3:16 remaining in the contest.
North Central missed a three-point attempt on its next trip down the court and Kobe Eichelberger collected the key defensive rebound for the Thunder. Wheaton missed two three-point field goal attempts on its next possession, but offensive rebounds by Francis and Anthony kept the ball with the Thunder and those caroms paid off when Anthony drained a clutch three-pointer with 1:58 remaining in the game to extend Wheaton's lead to a seven-point bulge at 76-69.
The Cardinals missed a field goal attempt on their next possession and Eichelberger again got the defensive rebound. North Central fouled Peters on Wheaton's next possession and the senior made one of two free throw attempts to increase the guests' lead to 77-69 with 1:22 remaining. Wheaton was 5-of-6 at the free throw line in the final 1:03 of the game to lock up the key road victory.
Cappelletti led the Cardinals with 20 points, making four three-pointers. Connor Raridon scored 19 points with three assists. Aaron Jones scored 17 points and Will Clausel added 11 points for the hosts.
Wheaton hosts Millikin on Wednesday night in the CCIW regular season finale for the Thunder at 7:00 p.m. in King Arena.