So far, one of the biggest problems the Prairie Fire men’s basketball team has faced is its lack of ability to control the hot shooting of its opponents.
On the year, Knox (1-12, 0-8 MWC) is shooting a respectable 44 percent on offense. However, opponents are shooting a blazing 50 percent on the season against the Prairie Fire. That margin has led to the Prairie Fire giving up an average of nearly 82 points per game.
Head coach Rob Purlee realizes the problem exists and has been trying to remedy it.
“We’ve really had to go back to the basics,” Purlee said. “We’re working on help defense and being in better help position. And we’re trying to get guys in better position for success; for instance, we moved [senior forward Matt] Goedeke from the ‘3’ to the ‘4.’
“But the real problem is between the ears. We can’t finish plays or possessions…we can’t get over one or two backbreaking plays each game…and we are lacking in confidence right now.”
Similar to trips taken annually by spring sports teams, the Prairie Fire men’s basketball team was able to take a trip to Hawaii over Winter Break. During their six-day trip, they played two games before returning home prior to Christmas.
The opening game on Dec. 18 placed the Fire in an 8 p.m. matchup in Kailua against Wisconsin’s Edgewood College (now 8-5 on the year). The game was rough from the get-go for the Fire, as the Eagles raced out to a 14-0 run at the opening tip. Knox was able to bring the margin as close as 12 following a three-pointer from junior Ben Wetherbee at the 8:31 mark. However, the Eagles were able to open up the lead to 22 points by halftime. During the second half, the Eagles held serve and kept the lead near a 25-point margin, finally taking the game by a final of 83-56.
Wetherbee and sophomore Lukas Shaw led the Prairie Fire in scoring with 14 points apiece; Wetherbee on 5-8 shooting and Shaw on 7-11. The Eagles shot a staggering 78 percent in the first half and finished at 68 percent for the contest. Four of Edgewood’s starting five finished in double figures.
The following night matched up the Prairie Fire with the Spartans from the University of Dubuque (now 8-5) for a 5 p.m. contest.
The game trended back and forth for the first 10 minutes of the game, with neither team’s lead exceeding five. The Prairie Fire trailed 15-10 before going on a mini-run to tie the game at 20. However, after a basket from each team, the big run of the game went against Knox, as the Spartans held the Fire scoreless for the next four minutes as they jumped out to an 11-point lead. Knox battled back, however, with a 7-0 run to draw within four, only to see Dubuque go on a 7-0 run of its own to notch a 40-29 halftime margin. That margin would remain near 11 points for most of the half, though the Prairie Fire were able to come as close as six points with 2:20 left. But the Spartans converted on their free throw attempts down the stretch to fend off the Prairie Fire attack and close out a 75-61 victory.
Shaw again led the team in scoring with 19 on 8-9 from the floor, including 13 before intermission. Junior Joe Kozak notched 12, and Wetherbee finished with 11. Goedeke pulled down seven boards while Kozak and Shaw both had six apiece.
“Edgewood and Dubuque are two top-notch programs, and I thought we played Dubuque tough,” Purlee said about the two games. “Again, we just had a couple backbreaking plays against us down the stretch that just killed us.”
Purlee also noted that there may be some changes in store for the Hawaii trip if it is taken again next year.
“Edgewood definitely handled the trip better than we did, if that makes any sense,” Purlee said. “Next time we do this, I would make sure we head down there two days before our game instead of the day before so that we can practice on the courts and get our feet under us.”
Monmouth takes round one
Knox returned to Memorial Gymnasium on Jan. 8 for its first game since returning from Hawaii to face the Fighting Scots (3-8, 1-5 MWC) in a battle for each team’s first conference victory. Nearly 2000 fans lined the bleachers at Tim Heimann Court to see these two teams renew their rivalry.
Unfortunately for Knox, however, the Fire came out cold shooting the basketball, finishing shooting only 38 percent for the game. Monmouth, on the other hand, shot 53 percent for the game behind a 26-point performance from Corey Gruber. The Fire did force 16 Monmouth turnovers for the game, but were unable to capitalize on many of them. Knox was able to achieve more balanced scoring, however, as four of its five starters finished in double figures. This effort was led by sophomore Ian Horvath, who finished with 19 points. Wetherbee and junior Tanner Carlson each had 13, while Kozak finished with 11. Carlson also finished with six assists, while freshman David Jones led the team in rebounds with six.
Foresters defend home court
On Jan. 11, the Fire made a midweek trip to Lake Forest, Ill. to face conference foe Lake Forest College (5-6, 3-3 MWC). Though Knox was much quicker out of the gates this time (Knox began the game with an 11-3 run), they were unable to continue the pace. The Foresters countered with a 15-1 run of their own and never looked back from there to take the game, 70-59.
Wetherbee led the Fire in scoring with 15. Horvath finished with 12, and Carlson netted 11.
Knox returns home this weekend for Friday night action against Beloit College before hosting St. Norbert College on Saturday. Game times are 7 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively.
Purlee believes that a win this weekend could go a long way toward providing a remedy for the aforementioned lack of confidence.
“With Beloit, we’ll play more zone because, on paper, they shoot so much better inside the arc than outside…against St. Norbert, we’ll try to make it a track meet because they’re much more effective when they’re in the half-court offense. You might think I’m crazy when I say this, but I truly believe that if we beat Beloit, we’ll beat St. Norbert, too, and that we would have a realistic chance to finish the year on a 9-1 streak. I truly believe that.”