After a four-game winning streak, the men’s basketball team put themselves in great position to make a push for the fourth and final slot in the CCIW tournament. The team was finally jelling together on both ends of the court; they just needed to win their final two games against two teams the Thunder had already beaten earlier in the season.
But in the end, the team’s run to the postseason was derailed by their most consistent Achilles’ heel this year: away games. They’ve been stellar at King Arena with a record of 10-3, but struggled mightily on the road, posting a 2-8 record away from home.
On Saturday, the men travelled to Waukesha, Wis. to face Carroll University, but couldn’t buck the trend. A little over halfway through the second half, the game was knotted at 46 apiece, when, suddenly, the Thunder hit a wall. From the nine-minute mark until three minutes left in the second half, the team scored a grand total of one point.
Meanwhile, the Pioneers went on a massive 20-point run of their own. The game ended with the Pioneers emerging victorious 68-52. The loss put the CCIW tournament out of reach for the team.
Sophomore Aston Francis led the Thunder, as usual, with 15 points, but struggled from the field with a 5-17 shooting performance. Junior Ricky Samuelson and sophomore Trevor Gunter were second in scoring with 11 points each. Wheaton’s biggest problem was the team’s 15 turnovers.
On Saturday, the team went on the road again to play Carthage with a chance to at least end the season on a positive note. The team had an extremely slim chance to make the CCIW tournament, but it was going to take a minor miracle. Still, it was imperative for the Thunder to win in order for any of those other scenarios to come into play.
After being down by as many as 10 points, Wheaton was losing by a score of 35-27 at the half. The Thunder came out flat to start the second half and found themselves down by 18 points with a little over 10 minutes left in the second half.
Suddenly, something clicked within the Thunder and Francis caught fire. The Thunder chipped away at the Red Men’s lead, culminating with a Francis three-pointer with 29 seconds left to cut the deficit to three points. Wheaton forced a quick turnover and Francis hit yet another three-pointer with 22 seconds left in the game.
The Red Men came back and scored with a second left on the clock to beat Wheaton 75-73, officially ending the Thunder’s 2016-2017 campaign. Francis finished with 30 points, 23 in the second half, and freshman Spencer Peterson added a career-high 20 points.
“It’s always sad when a season comes to an end, but we also have a lot to look forward to,” Gunter explained. “This was a unique year for us because we will be returning everyone for next season. We grew a lot this year [and] believe the future will be bright.”
Another positive for the Thunder after the game was the honor bestowed on Francis, a unanimous First Team All-CCIW selection, and sophomore Luke Peters, a Second Team All-CCIW selection.