MAHOMET — Injuries ravaged Illinois Wesleyan’s men’s basketball team in 2019-20. Only four players played in all 28 games this year.
Former Effingham star Grant Wolfe was supposed to be the starting point guard, but he played in just seven games due to two concussions. Charlie Bair (23 starts) and Luke Yoder (14 starts) both missed the last handful of games.
The Titans were snakebitten.
But those injuries opened the door for former Mahomet-Seymour star Cory Noe to make his mark on the program. The sharp-shooting Noe took full advantage of the opportunity.
In his first season of getting real playing time at the college level, Noe developed into a sophomore star. After scoring in double figures just once in the first 12 games, Noe earned a spot in the starting lineup for the last five games of the season. Illinois Wesleyan won four of those five games and Noe averaged 16.4 points per game during that stretch.
He had arrived.
“I had already played on average like 17 or 18 minutes a game when I wasn’t starting, but when I was able to start, that was a big confidence booster,” Noe said. “I just was able to go out and play. I wasn’t worrying about, ‘Oh, if I make a mistake, I’m going to get taken out of the game.’ I just played loose. Hopefully, I’ll be able to play like that next year too.”
Noe had a few big games throughout the regular season. He dropped 16 points against Anderson (Ind.) University on Dec. 15. He was unstoppable in a loss to No. 18 North Central, knocking down four 3-pointers and finishing with 21 points on Jan. 8.
But his real coming-out party was in the regular-season finale against Carthage. Noe scored a team-high 23 points to lead the Titans to a come-from-behind 91-81 victory. He drained 3-of-5 3-pointers. He finished 9-for-13 from the field and he didn’t miss a free throw.
That was the spark he needed. In the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) tournament, Noe sparked the Titans to the championship game. His 18 points were huge in the opening round win over Carthage. Then, Illinois Wesleyan upset Augustana 74-70 thanks to Noe’s ice-cold, game-sealing free throws in the closing seconds. They couldn’t get over the hump against Elmhurst in the championship game, falling 78-72, but that wasn’t because Noe didn’t do his part. The sophomore scored 16 points and ripped down five boards.
“It was a good year for me,” Noe said. “It was great to get in the rotation and then at the end of the year, I stepped up a little bit to get out there and proved myself.”
Illinois Wesleyan was surprisingly not selected for the NCAA Division III Tournament despite making a run to the CCIW championship game.
“Division III is different the Division I,” Noe said. “So it’s big on regions, and we’re in the toughest region. We kind of got shut out. The two teams from our conference that made it, they made the Sweet 16.”
Despite the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row, Noe proved that he’s ready for an even bigger role next season. He finished eighth on the team in scoring, averaging 8.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.
Illinois Wesleyan watched as a star was being born right in front of their eyes. But Noe had been a Bulldog star long before his high school days. That’s just who he is.
The Titans will be loaded with talent next year. Wolfe, Yoder and Bair will all return from their injuries. Former St. Thomas More and Champaign Central star Doug Wallen will be back. He averaged 11.2 points and 5.6 rebounds. Former Normal University High stud Keondre Schumacher (12.0 points per game) will return too.
But Noe’s end-of-the-year performance was special. It gave him a juice of confidence. And that’s a dangerous proposition for opponents.
“We have a lot of confidence because we return basically everyone next year,” Noe said. “We are going to be a team that’s very balanced. Anyone can come out and get 10 points a night. It’ll be a fun year next year.”