Beloit College used a strong run midway through the first half in delivering a knock-out blow to the Prairie Fire men’s basketball team in the Buccaneers’ 86-61 victory over Knox last Friday night at Memorial Gymnasium.
The following night, the Prairie Fire hosted 15th-ranked St. Norbert College and put on a much more respectable performance, dropping the contest 68-59. The two losses drop the Fire to 1-13 on the year and 0-9 in Midwest Conference play.
Beloit took a 3-1 lead roughly two minutes into the game and never looked back. The Buccaneers led 47-21 at the half behind a first half double-double from junior David Bremner.
“It’s equivalent to giving up 12 runs in the first inning [of a baseball game],” head coach Rob Purlee said. “We got behind big early to a point that it would take a minor miracle to come back from it.”
Junior Tanner Carlson was the only member of the Prairie Fire to finish in double-figures in scoring, with 13 points. Fellow juniors Ben Wetherbee and Joe Kozak finished with nine apiece, while freshman David Jones added eight. Bremner had 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Buccaneers, joining two teammates who also finished with double-digit point totals.
“There were three major things that went wrong Friday night,” Purlee said. “Number one, our game plan was not sound. It was the first time all year I wasn’t comfortable with what we were going to do. Number two, because of that game plan, our guys spent the game thinking rather than playing and reacting. And number three, once we got down early, it was kind of a ‘Here we go again’ thing, and we weren’t able to come back from it.”
Because of the performance Friday night, Purlee brought his guys back to the court for a post-game practice. It was, he admits, the first time Knox has done so during his tenure at the helm.
“We challenged them, and we tried to get them to take a bit of a breath,” Purlee said. “Personally, I was proud of how they handled it. They took it seriously, and we were ready to play on Saturday.”
On Saturday, Purlee followed through on a promise he made during that practice to start the team’s four seniors: Matt Goedeke, Peter Cain, Roger Ortiz and Courtney Jude. Jones joined the seniors in the starting lineup, which remained in the game for the first five minutes and held a strong, nationally ranked Green Knights club to just five points in that span.
Though the Prairie Fire shot just 26 percent from the field and scored only 16 points in the first half, that strong defensive effort continued and kept Knox very much in the game. At intermission, Knox trailed the nation’s 15th-ranked squad 26-16. During the second half, both offenses performed more to their capabilities, with Knox outscoring the Knights by a point. Unfortunately at the final buzzer, however, St. Norbert was able to come away with a 68-59 win.
For the game, the Prairie Fire enjoyed relatively balanced scoring. Leading the way were both Carlson and sophomore Lukas Shaw, who each finished with 10 points. Kozak finished with nine.
“We started the game well and didn’t immediately get punched in the mouth,” Purlee said, “so we were able to compete better.”
This weekend, Knox heads north to Wisconsin for its final multi-day road trip of the year, with a game against Midwest Conference leader Lawrence University before a rematch with Beloit.
“Last Friday, we tried to get cute,” Purlee said. “We paid too much attention to Beloit and not enough to ourselves. This weekend, we need to get back to who we really are.
“We need to strive more for post-season possessions [on offense], good possessions where we get a good shot by a good shooter, draw a foul or really strain the opposing defense. I want the guys to focus a little less on the result and get consumed by the process of what leads to good results.”