One might assume that a team with a record like 2-21 got blown out every game and struggled to compete. But for the Knox College men’s basketball team last season, this was simply not the case.
Three times last year Knox lost games that went into overtime, including a triple overtime road loss to Lawrence University. On four additional occasions Knox lost by fewer than five points, including a home court loss which saw the Prairie Fire fall victim to a half-court shot at the buzzer.
“Obviously, we lost some heartbreaking games last year,” senior forward Alex Schobert said, “but I think the difference this year will be our level of experience.”
Schobert, one of five Knox seniors this year, is one of many expecting to see the team make a turnaround this season.
“I think this team has demonstrated much more focus and maturity throughout the pre-season than we have seen from some of our teams in the past,” Schobert said. “This can be attributed to the fact that we have a lot more upperclassmen than we have had in previous years, and I think our experience is going to be a huge asset this year.”
Head coach Rob Purlee agrees that the senior presence will make a huge difference.
“To have a good season, you need to have a good season from your seniors; there is no doubt about that. This is really big time group of guys, in all facets,” Purlee said.
In addition to Schobert, Knox returns its top three scorers in seniors Ben Wetherbee, Tanner Carlson and Joe Kozak, each of whom eclipsed double digits in per game scoring last year.
“The thing I’ve really tried to get across to [the seniors] is that the time has come for them to do what they came here to do,” Purlee said, implying these players are capable of leading a winning team.
The key however, will still be coming out on top in close contests.
“We need to learn how to finish out close, tough games, something we struggled with considerably last year,” Schobert said, “As a team, we need to focus on taking care of the ball, limiting unforced turnovers, and preventing the opponents from getting too many looks at the basket due to second chance offensive rebounds.”
Schobert adds that the team has not lowered its expectations heading into this season.
“The team expectation is to win some games this year and to compete for a conference championship. We finally have upperclassmen with two or three years of college basketball experience playing huge roles for us. We have arguably the best point guard in the conference in [Carlson], an all-conference forward in [Kozak] and a lot of depth and talent at every position. There should be no reason for us not to compete at a high level as one of the best teams in our conference night in and night out.”
Purlee, while less vehement, also has confidence for the year.
“Our goal is to get better with every game so that we are playing our best at the end of the year when it matters the most, then let the chips fall as they may,” he said.
Unfortunately, this season began on a similar tone to last season, as the Prairie Fire fell 69-63 to Benedictine in their opening game. Knox was down 10 at half and fought back to make the game close, only to come up short.
Sophomore Lucas Shaw had a huge game for the Prairie Fire, notching a double-double with 18 points and 19 rebounds. Knox also got solid efforts from Carlson — 12 points, 6 assists — and Kozak — 10 points, 5 rebounds.