History was made Wednesday evening as the Augustana men's basketball team beat the Wheaton Thunder 93-83 at Carver Center.
That victory, along with North Central losing at home to Illinois Wesleyan, gave Augie's Vikings a share of their fifth straight CCIW crown. That is the first time in league history that a team has won (or shared) the league title five straight seasons.
Still, that drive for five is not complete, according to the players.
“That's satisfying,” said senior Brett Benning of the title share. “But our ultimate goal is to win it outright, and we have a chance to do that on Saturday (vs. Millikin on senior night). That's our focus to win it outright. We want to be selfish and not share it with anybody.”
Not being selfish was a big key to Wednesday's victory for the nationally fourth-ranked Vikings (21-2, 13-1 CCIW).
Solid team defense against a very explosive club in a physical game and having everyone contribute on offense were all keys in a contest marred by 49 fouls. Pierson Wofford scored an Augie-high 21 points, Benning had 18, Nolan Ebel had 16 (12 from the free-throw line) and Chrishawn Orange 14. Both starting guards — Ebel and Orange, who handled more of the point guard duties on Wednesday to create more offense — shared team rebounding honors with Micah Martin (nine points) with six each.
“Some nights our defense carries us,” said Augie coach Grey Giovanine, “tonight we outscored them.”
Which was a tough proposition as the Thunder (16-7, 9-5 CCIW) usually had an answer offensively. Many of those were from All-American senior Aston Francis, who scored a game-high 35 — five over his nation-leading average. However, he launched 32 shots to get his share against a harassing defense. The Thunder, though, had others step up and hit big shots to erase an early Augie double-digit lead.
Still, the Vikings, spurred by a nice effort off the bench from junior Austin Elledge that included nine points, two rebounds, and plenty of time hounding Francis.
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Augie, which lost a couple of double-digit leads throughout, was nursing a 69-64 edge with 8:18 left in regulation. Wheaton had gone into a zone defense and created havoc that led to a couple of ugly possessions.
“They went to that zone and we didn't attack it very well and took a timeout to talk about it,” said Giovanine.
Out of that timeout, Orange, who set a school record with his 99th victory in his career, converted a three-point play. Wheaton answered with two 3s to make it 72-70 and then the Vikings finally got a lead they didn't lose as Wofford scored from the left baseline, Ebel hit his first field goal of the game, a triple with 6:05 left, and Orange drilled a 3 to make it 80-70 with 5:26 left.
Wheaton could only get as close as eight after that as the Vikings re-wrote the record books.
“This is a really awesome feeling, but at the same time, we don't want to share it with anyone; we want to win it outright,” said Ebel. “That was our goal at the start of the season and that's still our goal, so Saturday will be a big one.
“At the same time, it's something really special that I think gets taken for granted in this program because we've done it so often. But it's a very good feeling.”
Wheaton 61, Augustana 39: The Vikings scored just two points in the opening quarter and couldn't recover, falling to Wheaton on Wednesday night.
The loss dropped the Vikings to 12-11, 6-8 in the CCIW.
Izzy Anderson led the Vikings with 15 points, and Alexis Jones chipped in 11.