When Wheaton (Ill.) University men’s basketball player Luke Peters walked off the court at Augustana last month, he thought his season and college career were over.
Despite that seven-point heartbreaker in the semifinals of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Tournament, the Medina native and his teammates will be playing tonight in the biggest game of their lives.
Peters will lead the Thunder into the NCAA Division III Final Four against Wisconsin-Oshkosh in a national semifinal at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum as the team has made the most of a second chance.
“I’m just looking forward to playing another game with my teammates,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we’re here to win two basketball games and I really think we can do that, but I’d be lying if I said the other stuff that goes along with being here hasn’t been really cool.
“I’m just trying not to get caught up in that. It’s been amazing and win, lose or whatever happens this weekend, it’s been a great experience so far and we can’t wait to play.”
Peters and his teammates had to nervously wait to see if they would get one of 21 at-large bids to the tournament.
Since that devasting 94-87 loss to North Central College in the CCIW Tournament, the Thunder has run off victories over Hanover, Wooster, Augustana and Marietta, the latter a regional final triumph where they rallied from a 14-point deficit to earn the school’s first Final Four berth of any kind since 1960.
“It seems like we’re always down at half every single game,” Peters said. “But we know that we’ve been there before, we’ve played really good teams and we’ve come from behind a lot, so we’re confident.”
The 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard does a bit of everything for a Wheaton team that enters the national semifinal with five more losses than any of the other remaining squads. Whether it’s scoring (8.2 ppg), ripping down rebounds (5.5) or setting up his teammates (4.2 apg), the former Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy standout finds a way to get the job done.
“I’m always trying to do anything to give my team the best chance to win,” Peters said. “Whether that’s guarding the other team’s best player, helping my guys get open looks, rebounding, I’m just doing whatever I can.
“I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t struggled with my offensive role, wanting to score more and do more, but as I’ve matured and grown into my place on the team, that hasn’t been an issue. Stats and offensive points are way less important to me than just doing whatever I can to help us win. That’s all that matters.”
That selfless play is a big reason why the Thunder will be taking the court against a Wisconsin-Oshkosh program that was national runner-up a year ago, losing to Nebraska Wesleyan 78-72.
Wheaton has a loaded roster of veterans from Peters to one of the top scorers in the country in Aston Francis, who had 62 points in the come-from-behind win over Marietta.
“I can’t think of a better way (to end a career), that’s for sure,” Peters said. “When I came to Wheaton, this was obviously a big goal of ours and my freshman year we were 5-20. This group of seniors, and a couple of other new guys that came in when I was a sophomore, we kind of made it a goal to get here. Now that is has come to fruition, I have to pinch myself every once in a while.”
Special moments on the court are nothing new to Peters, who can still remember the days when he sat on the end of the Medina High bench when his dad Jody coached the Bees. He also played for his uncle, Jay Peters, at CVCA.
“Obviously basketball is a huge part of my family and it seems like every single conversation, somehow, turns right back around to basketball,” he said. “I was just face-timing my mom in the locker room and my dad is calling me 10 times a day just to hear what we’re doing and what our plan is. Basketball has been so good to my family.”