North Central (Ill.) won its regular-season finale on Tuesday, as the fifth-ranked Cardinals emerged down the home stretch and knocked off third-ranked Illinois Wesleyan 87-83 in overtime at Gregory Arena.
The win keeps the Cardinals (22-3, 11-3 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) perfect in home games at 13-0 this season. North Central has now won 16 consecutive games on its home floor, dating back to last season. The Titans (21-4, 13-1 CCIW) were denied in their attempt to become the first CCIW team in 40 years to run through conference play undefeated.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, as the Cardinals held an early 12-7 lead before IWU put together a 14-1 run and pulled ahead 21-13 with 11:07 left in the first half. North Central’s Vince Kmiec got a rally started for the home team with a pair of 3-pointers, and the Cardinals wound up going on a 15-2 run to forge a 28-23 advantage with 6:53 on the clock.
North Central led until the final minutes before halftime, when Titan reserve post player Parker Musselman scored a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the score at 34. Derek Raridon sank a jumper on the next possession to provide a two-point lead for the Cardinals, but IWU’s Pat Sodemann was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three shots to nudge the Titans in front 37-36. The Titans then got a jumper from Sodemann and a putback by Musselman to take a five-point lead before heading into halftime with a 44-41 edge.
Trailing, 69-68, with just over three minutes left in regulation, the Cardinals finally took their first lead of the half as Aaron Tiknis found a cutting Raridon for a layup and a 70-69 lead. The Titans’ Andrew Ziemnik scored inside on the next possession before North Central guard Pat Rourke was fouled near midcourt and sank both free throws to give the hosts a 72-71 edge with 1:40 left.
With the shot clock winding down, Ziemnik launched a 3-pointer which found the bottom of the net, giving the Titans a 74-72 edge with less than two minutes to play. Kmiec attempted a 3-pointer which was off the mark, but Raridon came up with the rebound and found Landon Gamble on the post. Gamble was fouled and converted both free throws to knot the score once again with 26 seconds left.
Tiknis opened the extra session with a 3-pointer and the Cardinals remained in front until 3:13 remained, when IWU’s Brady Zimmer sank two free throws. The score was tied once again with 1:50 left when IWU’s Eric Dortsch made two free throws. Tiknis found Gamble in the lane for another score to give North Central the lead once again, and Kmiec rebounded a missed 3-point attempt by Ziemnik to give the Cardinals a chance to go up by two possessions.
Raridon was fouled and made both shots with 30 seconds left. The Cardinals conceded a layup to Zimmer before getting two more free throws from Jack Merrithey with 17 seconds to go. IWU had two 3-point shots on its final trip down the floor, but both shots were off the mark and the Titans suffered their first loss since Dec. 30.
North Central’s Kmiec scored a game-high 23 points, 17 of which came in the first half, while also grabbing a team-best six rebounds and playing all 45 minutes of the game. Gamble totaled 18 points, with 15 coming after halftime, and blocked three shots, while Raridon scored 17 poins and Charlie Rosenberg added 10. North Central made 4 of 5 field goals and limited the Titans to 2 of 7 shooting in the overtime period.
Zimmer paced IWU with 16 points off the bench, while Ziemnik and Dylan Overstreet each scored 13. The Titans outrebounded North Central 41-31, but the Cardinals turned the ball over just seven times and scored 22 points off of 16 IWU miscues.
North Central, which has tied the program’s record for victories in a single season, moved on to this weekend’s CCIW tournament at Illinois Wesleyan.