Two different games. Two different decisions. Two similar results.
Against St. Norbert College last Saturday, Knox College men’s basketball head coach Rob Purlee had a choice to make. Upon seeing an opposing player miss a potential game sealing free throw, Purlee could either call a timeout to set up a play, or let the game run its course. The conundrum was not an unfamiliar one, as Purlee had faced it just five days before against Lake Forest.
In that game, Purlee called a timeout and drew up a play only to see it break down in the final seconds without the Prairie Fire getting a shot off.
This time, as Purlee puts it, “Calling a timeout was not the right call. Doing that would have put power in the other [coach’s] hands. I originally thought that if [the player] misses the free throw we were going to call a timeout, but I kept going back and forth in my head about it. We want the ball in [senior point guard Tanner Carlson’s] hands, and if we call the timeout we may not get it back in his hands.”
Carlson did get the ball, but once again Knox could not get a shot off in the face of a stingy defense, and the Prairie Fire fell to the Green Knights 60-58.
The late defensive pressure only highlighted the overall nature of the game, which was expectedly low-scoring.
“Right from the tip we knew that the St. Norbert game was going to be a defensive battle; both teams take great pride on that end of the floor,” senior Ben Wetherbee said.
At half time, the score stood at St. Norbert 25, Knox 20, with each team shooting below 35 percent from the field.
The second half contributed more offensive fireworks, especially from Wetherbee, who knocked down five three in the second half to keep Knox within striking distance.
“There was a window there where he played at an extremely high level,” Purlee said.
But despite the efforts of Wetherbee, who now stands just five three pointers away from the Knox career record, the Prairie Fire never managed to take a second half lead.
“We were forcing St. Norbert into contested jump shots but were not finishing the plays on the glass,” Wetherbee said. Knox surrendered 14 offensive rebounds to the Green Knights (9-5, 6-3 MWC).
“We clawed our way back into the game, but in the end, St. Norbert made a couple more plays than we did,” Wetherbee said.
Knox also received double-digit scoring from Carlson (10 points), senior Joe Kozak (ten points) and junior Lukas Shaw (14 points).
There are some telling statistics, which indicate why Knox (3-11, 2-7 MWC) is struggling this season.
The Prairie Fire are averaging just 64 points per game, which is the worst in the conference. Knox is also ninth in free throw percentage (66 percent) and three point percentage (31.3 percent), eighth in field goal percentage (43.1 percent) and last in turnover ratio (-4.21 per game).
“We have had players carry the team for stretches, but we need to get to the point where instead of one guy making all the plays, everyone on the team is getting involved,” Purlee said of the offensive struggles.
As for the turnover problems, he said, “The turnover situation has been frustrating. We have a senior point guard, we have experience, and it is just killing us.”
Knox’s two game home stand against Lawrence (4-8, 3-5 MWC) and Beloit (4-8, 3-5 MWC) is Knox’s last real shot to get back into the conference tournament race.
“Obviously we’re in survival mode at this point,” Wetherbee said, “With nine games to go we can’t afford to come up short in many more games.”
“For whatever reason we have not played well at home,” Purlee added. “We need to get over the hump this weekend and play well.”