After losing seven games by five points or less this season—three in overtime, two at the buzzer and one in the game immediately preceding the final contest—a team lacking in mental toughness might have thrown in the towel.
Knox’s men’s basketball team proved they were not ready to give up in Glennie Gymnasium last Saturday night.
With a strong performance on the glass, the Prairie Fire took the final game of the season against its bitter rival, Monmouth College, 60-57 on the Fighting Scots’ home floor. Knox finished the season 2-21, with a 1-17 record in Midwest Conference play. The win ended a 21-game losing streak, and prevented the Fire from a winless MWC season.
“I’m very, very happy for the guys,” Knox head coach Rob Purlee said. “I know how important this win is for the whole team, and for the school as a whole.”
The win was the first for a Knox athletic program at Monmouth this academic year.
“It’s like going back to the playground you grew up on as a kid,” said Purlee, a 2004 graduate of Monmouth College, where, after an outstanding athletic career, he spent two years as an assistant football and basketball coach. “But that’s not what it’s about. This win was about our players and our team.”
Knox came out cold, not making a field goal until the 15:30 mark, when senior Matt Goedeke hit a jumper. After falling down 10-3, Knox went on a 16-3 run to take a nine-point advantage. Monmouth regained the lead with four minutes to go in the half, but the Fire finished the half on a 9-0 run to take a six-point halftime lead, 37-31.
In the second half, the Scots regained the lead with 14 minutes to play, and with just over nine minutes left, the lead was stretched to six points. However, a three-point basket from junior Ben Wetherbee and a jumper from junior Tanner Carlson cut the lead to one.
Another jumper from Carlson five minutes later gave the Prairie Fire a one-point advantage, a lead that would not be relinquished. Two free throws and a steal from Carlson iced the game and gave the Prairie Fire a three-point victory.
Junior Joe Kozak led Knox in scoring with 15 points. Carlson added 12. Sophomore Lukas Shaw finished just shy of a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds. Goedeke had seven points and 13 boards for the Fire.
The win sends out seniors Goedeke, Courtney Jude, Roger Ortiz, and Peter Cain in style.
“It’s always a special thing,” Purlee said. “It’s like those guys getting their diploma in the spring. A win in their final game in a Knox uniform will always stay with them. It’s something that can never be taken away.”
Now, the team moves on to a phase of improving for next season. However, some of the groundwork has already been laid. The Fire returns its strongest core of players in many years.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Purlee said, “but we’ll bring back our top eight or nine guys. We just have to get better in-house. And there are no short cuts for that…repetition, repetition, repetition, until it becomes habitual and instinctive.”