The Wheaton men's basketball team defeated Wooster 78-70 in front of a capacity crowd on Saturday at Wooster's Timken Gymnasium in a second round matchup of the Division III men's basketball NCAA Tournament.
Wheaton advances to next Friday's sectional semifinal round of the tournament. The Thunder will face Augustana on Friday in one of two semifinal matches. The other semifinal matchup will feature Oswego State and Marietta. The site of next weekend's sectional will be announced by the NCAA on Sunday.
Aston Francis led all players with 43 points and 12 rebounds, plus three steals. Tonight's effort followed his 42-point and 13 rebound game against Hanover on Friday in the tournament's first round as Francis is the first Wheaton player in program history to tally two 40-point games in the NCAA Tournament.
Luke Anthony scored nine points with three assists. Nyameye Adom and Kobe Eichelberger each scored six points.
Wheaton head coach Mike Schauer said of tonight's victory. "This was an unbelievable game. This is the best win of my career." He added, "I am proud of my guys, they just fought and fought. The biggest thing tonight is that playing in an environment like this is a fairly normal road game for us. This is not a unique experience for us and I thought that really showed tonight."
Wheaton had a strong first half tonight. The Fighting Scots led 14-11 with 12:46 remaining in the opening half when a Kobe Eichelbergerlaypup sparked seven consecutive points for the Thunder. Wheaton's 7-0 run was capped by a Trevor Gunter layup with 11:03 left in the first half. Wheaton never trailed in the remainder of the first half. Wheaton's largest lead of the first 20 minutes was its 38-33 halftime lead. The final three points of the half came on a fall-away 3-pointer by Francis with 34 seconds remaining before halftime.
The Thunder continued to maintain a lead in the opening 10 minutes of the second half. The Thunder led 45-44 with 14:05 left in the second half when Francis made a 3-pointer as he was falling down to extend the guests' lead to 48-44. It was the first of two straight 3-pointers for Francis and keyed an 8-0 run for the Thunder to increase its lead to 53-44 with 12:00 left in the contest.
Wooster trimmed Wheaton's lead to three points at 53-50 with 10:40 left in the game. However, Wheaton again responded with a run. A 12-4 Thunder run gave Wheaton a 65-54 lead with 5:51 remaining in the game. The run was started by a Luke Anthony 3-pointer with 8:38 remaining in the matchup.
Francis' 3-pointer with 3:24 left in the game put Wheaton was the dagger for Wheaton as the trey extended the guests' lead to 68-59. Wheaton closed out the game for the 78-70 victory as Francis scored 29 of Wheaton's 40 points in the second half.