It was a weekend of peaks and valleys for Knox men’s basketball team, as the Prairie Fire split its win and loss between Beloit and Lawrence last Friday and Saturday.
The matchup against the Buccaneers brought Knox its first win on its home court, a 77-60 drubbing. Saturday’s game was bittersweet as the college dedicated Tim Heimann Court to its legendary former coach during halftime; the game was an eventual loss to the Vikings, 93-69.
Friday evening’s game was a raucous event in Memorial Gymnasium, and the Fire faithful could taste blood in the air from the opening tip. Knox had control of the game from the outset, starting with a score by sophomore Matt Goedeke in the first 30 seconds. Some early foul problems gave Beloit a chance to get to the line and trade the lead with Knox three times in the first eight minutes, but senior Rusty Baker made a basket and drew the foul to go up by four, and from then on there was no looking back.
Knox led the remainder of the night, closing out the half 35 to 27, and finishing the game in dominating fashion. Freshman Ben Wetherbee led the Fire in scoring with 22 on 5-of-9 shooting, including 4-for-4 from beyond the arc. Goedeke would add 18 with eight rebounds.
“We were going to come out in full-court press, and we didn’t think they could handle it, which proved to be true,” Wetherbee said. “We got to establish our post game with Goedeke, and once they started double-teaming on him I started to get up some shots, and fortunately we hit them this game.”
The Buccaneers were stymied by the Fire’s intense playing, as Knox forced 23 turnovers, including 15 steals. Beloit shot only 25 percent from the field in the first half, and 29 percent for the whole game. After going 0-for-8 from three point range in the first half, the Bucs made five on 15 attempts in the second half in an effort to stay in the game, but it by then it was too gone.
“I’m very happy, especially for our seniors,” coach Rob Purlee said. “Great contributions- Clint [Moore] played, I think, his best floor game, we got a lift out of Rusty off the bench; Adam [Estergard] made some tough, winning plays like he always does.”
Moore scored 13 with four assists and three steals, Baker had 11 points on 3-for-4 shooting, while Estergard was everywhere, scoring five, with three assists, seven boards, a block and two steals. Knox (2-17, 2-10) gained its second win of the season and made its way out of the MWC cellar, while Beloit (3-16, 1-11) fell into the basement.
A resounding win by the Fire, one that christened their new court, buoyed them to head into a matchup with Lawrence University, a team that had a chance to tie for second place in the Midwest Conference (MWC). The dedication of the court to former coach Tim Heimann gave Knox extra motivation heading into this tough matchup.
The Fire struck first with a triple by Estergard to open the game, in which the Vikings came back from to tie. Another three by Moore and a free throw by Baker gave Knox its last lead of the game at four, but the Vikings went on a tear to lead 24 to 13 with ten minutes left in the first half. The Vikings would go into the locker room leading 41 to 28 as Knox struggled to stay on, but the Lawrence offense was relentless, closing out the game at 93 to 67.
“I was just hoping that we would play hard enough, and execute well enough, that if it came down to the last five minutes, maybe some Memorial Gym magic would kick in,” Purlee said. “We just couldn’t sustain, we weren’t in it at the end.”
Estergard led Knox with ten points and seven rebounds, while Wetherbee shot only 3-for-10 with nine points. Goedeke was held to ten points on 4-of-11 shooting.
“When you get the ball in the block, obviously these things can happen,” Purlee said. “Obviously you can miss your shot, but you can make it, you can draw a foul, or you can kick it out for a free shot. In the first half, we did the one thing that’s … a negative.”
Knox could only muster a 2-for-15 shooting mark in the paint, and despite shooting over 50 percent from three point land, they were held to only 38 percent overall. Knox (2-11, 2-18) was disappointed on a big day for the program, while Lawrence (13-6, 9-3) gained a tie for second in the MWC with Grinnell and Carroll.