The men’s basketball team entered last weekend giving up 70.3 points per game, the third best average in the Midwest Conference. But during home losses against Lawrence University and Beloit College, they gave up an average of 89 points.
“Both games were about defense, or, in our case, lack thereof,” head coach Rob Purlee said.
In the 92-83 loss to Lawrence, Knox fell behind early in the first half, and ultimately faced a 20 point deficit at half time.
“We didn’t show a lot of defensive poise in the first half,” Purlee said. “After they hit a couple shots it turned into ‘I don’t want my guy to hit the next one’ instead of ‘Let us, five guys, get a stop.’ Team man to man defense went out the window, and we were only ‘man to man’ defense.”
But Knox did not give up. Behind the efforts of senior guard Tanner Carlson, who would finish with 22 points in the game, the Prairie Fire tallied 61 points in the second half to stay in the game.
With just under two minutes left to play and the score 82-73, Lawrence committed a technical foul after heatedly debating a foul on Knox senior Ben Wetherbee. Wetherbee, who had already been granted two free throws from the original foul, ultimately had a chance to cut the lead to a manageable seven points.
But the normally solid free throw shooter would only make one, and a series of Prairie Fire misses and Viking free throws left the final score at 92-83.
“We dug ourselves a hole too big to come back from,” a disappointed Purlee said.
A comeback would have been easier if not for an incredible shooting performance by Lawrence. The Vikings drained 16 threes while shooting 50 percent from the field for the game.
“There were probably some defensive breakdowns but sometimes there is nothing you can do about a team getting hot,” Carlson said.
Carlson was joined in double digits by junior Lukas Shaw (12 points) and sophomroe David Jones (ten points).
The next night against Beloit the Prairie Fire would also surrender high point total, albeit through the efforts of overtime.
The Buccaneers started the game on fire from the field, opening up a 20-7 after seven minutes of play. Knox slowly worked back into the game, and the Prairie Fire were down 32-29 at half.
Despite the efforts, Purlee was disappointed with the offensive inefficiency.
“We had two [possessions] where we had four shots at the basket, so eight total shots, and we came away with one point,” Purlee said. “At the end of the half we had the opportunity to close with a score, and instead they came away with two free throws.”
In the second half the offense improved after refocusing on the interior.
“We felt that for us to be successful we had to get the ball inside. We did a good job of that, whether it was Tanner getting to the rim or Lukas taking shots inside,” Purlee said.
The game plan worked, as the Prairie Fire went to the free throw line 36 times in the game, forcing two of Beloit starters into foul trouble in the process.
“It definitely got easier out there when [Beloit guard Micahel Horton] got a couple fouls,” Carlson said. “They took him of me and it got easier to get the ball inside.”
But Knox was still down late into the game, and it was not until a last second Carlson jumper from the elbow went in that Knox had tied the game.
In overtime however the Knox offense went ice cold once more, and the Buccaneers took the extra from 15-5 for a 86-76 victory.
“I guess it follows suit with what has happened this season … we just keep finding new ways to lose games,” Purlee said. “You can break the game down a thousand different ways, but you have got put the ball in the basket, and we didn’t do that.”
Carlson finished with 22 points against the Buccaneers, while freshman Mitch Murphy contributed 16. Shaw led the Prairie Fire with 14 rebounds.