A late first-half run and a performance that will go down in Wheaton lore was too much for the UW-Platteville Pioneers on Wednesday night. Aston Francis scored 34 of his 54 points in the decisive first half as Wheaton rolled to a 99-77 road victory over a Pioneer team that reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament a season ago. With the victory, Wheaton improves to 8-2 this season while the Pioneers fall to 5-3.
The 54 points scored by Aston Francis broke a 64-year old program record for most points in a single game of 50 points previously set by Norm Pott on Jan. 16, 1954 against Millikin. The 54-point output sets a new single game high for Division III this season and is tied with Division I Furman's Jordan Lyons for the most points scored in an NCAA game this season across all levels of the NCAA. For Francis, this was his sixth career game of 40 or more points, breaking a tie with Tom Dysktra (1966-70) for the most career games of 40 or more points in program history.
"Anytime you beat a good WIAC team home or away it is a quality win," said Thunder coach Mike Schauer. "Platteville is very good and this is a significant win for us."
Trailing by five with just over 12 minutes remaining in the first half, Wheaton ran off five quick points on a lay-up by Anajuwon Spencer and a 3-pointer by Francis to tie the score at 16 apiece. The Pioneers rebuilt their five-point lead at 24-19 before another Francis 3 brought the lead back to two.
Wheaton athletics file photo by Mike Hudson
Justin Jarvensivu's layup with 6:35 remaining in the first half gave the Pioneers a 26-22 lead and set the stage for Aston Francis to steal the show. Another Francis 3-pointer pulled Wheaton to within one and a pair of free throws by the senior guard gave Wheaton the lead for good a minute later. The nation's leading scorer followed with another 3-pointer, an old-fashioned three-point play, and another two free throws, giving Wheaton a 35-26 lead with four minutes left in the half. A lay-up by Robert Duax with three minutes left in the half brought an end to the 11-0 run by Francis after he had scored Wheaton's last 24 points. Not done yet, Francis added a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left and closed the half with a fadeaway three as time expired in the first half, giving Wheaton a 47-33 halftime lead and bring Aston's point total to 34.
"Honestly, I have never seen anything quite like what Aston did tonight in the first half," noted Schauer. "The shot he hit at the end of the half was big and really was a huge emotional boost for us."
Wheaton's lead in the second half was never trimmed below 11 points and the Thunder led by as man as 21 points down the stretch until a lay-up by Luke Peters in the final minute gave Wheaton its largest lead of the game and the final tally of 99-77. Peters finished the game with 11 points and six rebounds but was equally effective in limiting UW-Platteville's leading scorer Robert Duax.
"As good as Aston was tonight, I was equally pleased with Luke Peters' play tonight," said Schauer. "He held the reigning WIAC Player of the Year to 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting. Luke's ability and willingness to always guard the other team's best player often gets overlooked but is as valuable as Aston's offense."
Aston Francis finished with his 54 points in just 27 shots, making 16 of his 27 attempts. He was 15-for-15 from the free throw line and 7-for-15 on 3-point attempts. Francis and Peters were joined in double figures by Nyameye Adom, who finished with 12 points. Blake McCann led the Pioneers with 18 points with Duax and Quentin Shields each adding 15 points.
Wheaton shot an impressive 49.2% (31-63) from the field and 38.5% (10-for-26) from the three-point line. UW-Platteville finished at 39.1% (25-64) from the field, despite shooting just 25% (7-28) from beyond the arc. Both teams were successful at the free throw line with Wheaton converting 90% (27-30) of its free throw attempts and the Pioneers shooting 83.3% (20-24) from the charity stripe. Wheaton won the rebounding battle 37-30.