James Connelly |Staff Writer
The Thunder men’s basketball team is 17-8 this season, finishing 10-4 in the CCIW. Wheaton will play as the No. 2 seed in the CCIW tournament on Friday, Feb. 28 against the No. 3 seed Augustana. The winner of the tournament will earn an automatic berth in the Division III NCAA Tournament. The match will be held in Bloomington at 5 p.m. in a neutral arena, where the Thunder are currently 2-0.
Coach Mike Schauer’s Thunder were on a seven-game winning streak, including three of their four road wins of the season, before dropping their final two games to North Central and Illinois Wesleyan, respectively. Both defeats came in close contests, with Wheaton’s loss to IWU being their sole home loss this season. The Thunder’s home and away records were two different tales: 11-1 in King Arena and 4-7 on the road.
Wheaton defeated Augustana in both of their meetings this season, although the games were close. The Thunder pulled off a 66-63 overtime victory against the Vikings at home on Jan. 11 after allowing a nine-point comeback in the final few minutes. Senior guard Tyler Peters, junior guard Brayden Teuscher and junior forward Peter Smith each recorded 16 points in the contest. The game was a fairly low scoring slugfest, as the Thunder were limited to 36.5 percent shooting from the field. However, Wheaton was also able to force 22 turnovers from Augustana and win the free throw battle, converting 23-34 compared to 11-18 from the Vikings.
The second matchup between Wheaton and Augustana took place on Feb. 1 at Augustana, and the Thunder prevailed in a 76-70 victory over the Vikings behind a solid performance from the starters. Senior center Nate Haynes scored 18 points and pulled down 17 rebounds, Peters scored 18 points, Teuscher added 16 and junior guard Caleb DeMoss piled up 14 as the Thunder shot a much better 49 percent from the field. Once again, the Thunder took advantage of the charity stripe and connected on 22-31. Whereas in the first meeting Augustana out-rebounded Wheaton 31-26, the Thunder won the second rebound battle 26-24.
Peters finished the regular season averaging 20.1 points per game on an efficient 51.4 percent shooting from the field, along with 5.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists. For the second consecutive season, Peters was named to the All-CCIW First Team and earned the “Fred Young Most Outstanding Player Award” from the league’s coaches. His 385 career assists as a member of the Thunder are sixth best in Wheaton history, and his 1,444 career points rank him 23rd of all-time.
Teuscher earned a spot on the All-CCIW Second Team with his 15.4 points per game on 49.2 percent from the field, 38.6 percent from three and 88.1 percent from the free throw line. Haynes was named to the All-CCIW Third Team in honor of both his offensive and defensive contributions to the Thunder. Haynes averaged 10.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting 60.9 percent from the field and distributing 1.5 blocks per game.
The Thunder’s loss to Illinois Wesleyan in King Arena was not only their first home loss of the season, but it also gave IWU the outright CCIW Championship. Over 2,000 spectators were present to watch the battle for the championship and to honor Wheaton’s senior players’ last game in King Arena. Wheaton’s only lead of the game came when sophomore forward Joel Smith drained a three with 5:24 in the half to give the Thunder a 31-30 lead. IWU took the lead for the final time soon afterwards with two made free throws by IWU guard Andrew Ziemnik.
Wheaton trailed by as many as 17 in the second half but was able to pull within three points a number of times in the final few minutes. IWU converted on the majority of their free throw attempts, however, and the Thunder were unable to pull off a classic comeback as seen in so many previous home games.