Wisconsin may be the land of cheese and football, but a trip north for the Prairie Fire ended with the realization that those cheddar-heads can play some basketball, too. Knox faced off against two teams ranked in the top 25 in the nation this past weekend, with #24 Carroll University Pioneers on Friday night, then over to De Pere to face the 14th ranked St Norbert College Green Knights.
It was Knox’s first meeting with Carroll this season, while a home matchup with St. Norbert ended with a 64-53 Prairie Fire loss. The team looked for revenge on this disrespect paid by the Knights, while testing their abilities against a tough team in Carroll. In addition to being ranked nationally, the two opponents were number one and two in the Midwest Conference (MWC), Carroll having the better of Norbert by a win. Both teams remain undefeated in conference play.
Friday’s game was a journey into new waters, as Knox faced off against an opponent they had never before played. After a strong showing against Millikin, capping what seemed to be a long journey ending in their first victory, the Fire were ready to show the Pioneers what they had.
Knox started strong and through the first ten minutes, the lead was traded twice, with neither team garnering more than a four-point lead. After that, the Pioneers began to run away with the game, with a 15-point lead at the half. The Prairie Fire eventually fell, 85-62, but the Fire was able to out-rebound the Pioneers, 42-35, including 13 offensive boards to Carroll’s ten. Sophomore Matt Geodeke scored a team-high 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting, while junior Adam Estergard had another double-double, with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore Charlie Tokar, despite playing only 11 minutes, pulled in five rebounds to go with his three points.
“Matt played well on Friday,” said Prairie Fire head coach Rob Purlee. “All our post guys played real well. Charlie… had his best statistical night of the year.” Despite this strong post presence, Knox lost and next had to face the Green Knights, a team that threatens to run away with the conference.
The Green Knights, besides being #14 in the country, have only suffered one loss this season, while Knox came into De Pere still looking for that increasingly elusive first win. The team continued to be undaunted, and some arbitrary ranking was nothing for them to worry about.
The Prairie Fire knew from their previous meeting that the game would not be an easy one, as all of Norbert’s players would once again be shod in LeBron James pro-model sneakers, and Norbert’s Tom Katzfey would be a scoring threat. Despite being in the enemy lands, Knox would not be frightened by some flashy shoes.
A hostile environment and a tough team like St. Norbert could be enough to damage a team’s hopes, but the first half was closer than many expected. Though they never held the lead, Knox was able to stay very close to the Knights, and with less than six minutes left in the first half, the Fire were only down four, 25-21. Unfortunately, the Green Knights kicked it into high gear, because within a minute the deficit was doubled at 29-21, and by the end of the half, the Prairie Fire was down 37-26. The second half fared no better, and Knox could not get it any closer than that, as St. Norbert pulled away to lead by as much as 28, before the final buzzer sounded and the score read 78-52. Knox would fall to 0-16 overall, 0-9 in the MWC, while Norbert would hold pace with Carroll, 14-1 overall, 8-0 in the conference.
“Both teams are very good,” Purlee said. “They’re both ranked in the top 25, and going to their place… Right now they’re both just better than we are.”
Geodeke was once again the high scorer with ten points as well as two rebounds, while Estergard, as Purlee said, “Played his guts out on Saturday, and he deserves recognition for that.” Estergard had two points, six rebounds and three assists. Freshman Alex Schobert had six points while pulling in four rebounds in 23 minutes, and freshman Ben Wetherbee dropped seven points on 3-for-8 shooting. It was another hard loss, but the men of Knox fight hard, and another chance is just around the corner. The team takes a jaunt down to Monmouth College to finish out the season series against the Scots on Saturday night.
“It’s a very winnable game,” Purlee said. “We just have to take advantage of opportunities.” The Fighting Scots won the last meeting, at Knox, 52-46 after a hard fought second half. Game time is 7:30 p.m.