Tim Heimann Court was rocking last Saturday night, as the Knox College Prairie Fire played host to the Foresters of Lake Forest College in the first home game after winter break. It was another tough loss for the Fire, who has been robbed of a victory on at least one other occasion in their games against North Park University in December.
Knox’s leading scorers freshman Ben Wetherbee and sophomore Matt Goedeke, averaging 13.4 and 11.1 points per game respectively, were both sidelined with injuries, and a short-handed team took the court to face off against the 1-8 Foresters. Knox was looking for its first win, having gone 0-9 to open the season. On paper it was an even match-up, with Knox needing to control the lane and force the Foresters to take jump shots, a weakness for them as they shot only 27.6 percent as a team, coming into the game from beyond the arc.
“Offensively, they spread it out, and try to give it to (freshman) Travis Clark,” said freshman forward Joe Kozak. “I played him some in high school, so we got to go at it some.”
The Foresters were held in check from behind the arc, shooting only 4-for-21 against the Fire. Clark picked up ten points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. Kozak went off though, in only his third start of the season, getting 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting and pulling down six rebounds and two blocks. The individual efforts of Kozak and senior Rusty Baker, who had 17 points, shooting 3-for-6 from behind the arc and 7-for-10 overall, were enough to keep Knox competitive but a bad shooting night from seniors Clint Moore, 1-for-6, and Adam Estergard, 0-for-3 forced another close game going down the stretch.
The first half was as evenly matched as the billing foretold and throughout the half the lead was in contention the whole time, with neither team building a cushion of more than four points, when Lake Forest led 21-17 with 5:45 left in the half. The Foresters held a 29-28 lead at halftime.
Opening the second half a small cold spell hit the Foresters and after losing the lead they proceeded to go down by seven after a jumper by Kozak. The lead would not hold for the Fire though. The Foresters stormed back, tying the game for the seventh time on a three-pointer with 7:51 left in the game. The lead would change hands twice more, and with 15 seconds left Baker fouled to force the shots, both were good to put the Foresters up by three. Knox head coach Rob Purlee would have his first year coaching skills tested here and called the timeout to draw up a play.
“The plan was to get the ball to Clint and spread the floor,” Purlee said, after the game. “I said to him, ‘We need you to make a play.”
The ball was inbounded, and Moore got his hands on it. It was one on one as the clock spun towards zero, but Moore lost his footing and could not steady himself in time to even attempt the shot to tie the game. As he fumbled about the buzzer sounded and the Lake Forest bench erupted. The final score was 54-51 Lake Forest, as they improved to 2-8 overall, and 1-2 in the Midwest Conference, while Knox would continue to search for their first win, dropping to 0-10, and 0-4 in conference. The pain of the loss palpable in the air, the team cleared the floor to examine what went wrong.
“You play with the kids you have,” Purlee said, when asked about the impact Wetherbee and Goedeke could have had. “We’ve shown improvement in practice, but it hasn’t translated to the games.”