The 200th meeting of the Knox College Siwash/Prairie Fire and the Monmouth College Fighting Scots on Tuesday was a chance for the Prairie Fire to get a roll going to charge down the stretch. Monmouth (4-7, 1-3) was looking for their first conference win, while Knox, winless on the season (0-11, 0-4), was hoping to get the ball rolling towards success, as well as avenge the trouncing delivered by Monmouth in November’s battle for the Bronze Turkey. Knox’s first year coach, Rob Purlee, is sure the wins will come, though at this point there is still the question of when.
In previous games, turnovers and poor ball control had doomed the Fire and it was hoped that these problems would be eliminated from this game. With perfect play, the Scots would be silenced.
From the get-go the match-up was forming into another in a line of classic match-ups between these two schools and through the first five minutes it was nearly impossible for either team to score, because of the great effort put up by both squads. Monmouth was playing lockdown defense in the post, while the Prairie Fire’s intensity was unmatchable throughout the floor.
The offensive struggles continued throughout the first half, as neither team could hit a shot. Sophomore Matt Goedeke and freshman Ben Wetherbee, having recently returned from injuries, shot a combined 1-11 in the first half. Down the stretch, they heated up, as Goedeke finished with nine points, second most on the team, to go along with eight rebounds and Wetherbee finished with seven, including going 2-5 from the arc. Freshman Joe Kozak was the high- point man for the Fire, with 12 points as well as ten rebounds. Junior Adam Estergard had 11 boards.
The Fire headed into the locker room at the half with a four-point lead, 23-19, and was looking poised to get that first win. Sophomore Roger Ortiz, starting his fourth game, hit a couple of circus shots in the first half, and those theatrics, combined with the great defense of Estergard and Goedeke, could prove to be the Fighting Scots undoing. Monmouth looked uncharacteristically confused towards the end of the half, but even with the lead, the Fire could not rest on their laurels.
“At the half, there were some things to change,” noted Goedeke. “They were doing some things on offense we didn’t like, so we had to change a few things defensively. Our offense couldn’t get any worse.”
The second half opened up big, as Wetherbee was brutalized while shooting a three in the first two minutes, drawing the foul and hitting the basket. Then Goedeke hit his first field goal and it seemed the offense had finally woken up. At about five minutes in cracks started to form in the Fire’s D, as the inside of the lane became constantly filled with Scots. Monmouth’s Eric Cogdill, their high point man at 13, collected 11 of these in the second half alone. A few controversial calls went the Scots’ way, Monmouth started playing physically, and slowly the youthful and smaller Prairie Fire started to give way. Although it changed little, a four-point lead in the last five minutes became insurmountable, as neither team could hit a shot. As the clock wound down and the buzzer sounded, the Prairie Fire again was on the losing end by only six points, the game closing out at 52-46. Neither team shot better than 30 percent from the field in this slugfest.
“We needed to get some stops, make some plays down the stretch,” said Goedeke. “We needed to take care of the ball. [Knox had 17 turnovers] Just do all the little things. They capitalized off our mistakes.”
“We’ve been playing tighter and tighter as the season goes on,” said Purlee. “We haven’t made the plays to win. Players just aren’t making plays.” Purlee was ready to win a game, as was the team, especially after this increasingly despondent start.
The team will have to shake it off, as they host St. Norbert at 7:00 on Friday, giving them another chance to try to make some noise in conference. Every game is a new chance.