In the last 37 minutes of Wednesday’s 91-79 loss against Illinois College the Knox College men’s basketball team outscored the Blueboys by three points. The problem was that Knox was outscored by 15 in the first three.
Illinois College (4-15, 2-12 MWC) opened the game on a 15-0 run after knocking down six of their first eight shots, three of which came from 3-point range.
“They come out making most of their shots and we can’t make anything, all of the sudden you look up and we’re down fifteen,” senior guard Tanner Carlson said of the start. “It puts you in a huge hole early in the game.”
“It is the coach’s responsibility to get his team ready to play, clearly we were not ready to play tonight,” head Coach Rob Purlee said. “Our pregame routine has been the same since day one, but clearly there is something wrong there because we just weren’t ready to play.”
Despite the less-than-favorable start, Knox was able to cut the deficit to eight by half time with the help of solid production from the bench.
Non-starters combined for 26 of the 41 first half points for the Prairie Fire, including ten from freshman Armand Strickland and seven from sophomore David Jones.
“We got down right away so the second group of guys that came in knew we had to bring more energy and be aggressive,” Jones said.
Jones went three of five from the field in the first half including a rare 3-point basket, while Strickland and fellow freshman Mitch Murphy each knocked down two 3-pointers each.
The Prairie Fire were eight of 16 from behind the arc in the first half, which finished with a score of 49-41.
After Knox got back into the game, the Blueboys switched to a 2-3 zone defense, but this did little to stop the comeback.
“I think we have done pretty well against teams when they move into a zone,” Jones said. “We knew what we had to do to attack it. I got a couple of baseline shots; [senior Joe Kozak] got more opportunities in the middle.”
With Jones and Kozak attacking the middle, this left shooters like Carlson open on the perimeter.
“Tanner showed a lot of poise in that he did not play well in the first half, but was able to collect himself and regain his composure to be a contributor in the second half,” Purlee said.
After scoring just three points in the first half, Carlson produced 12 on five on nine shooting from the field in the second, and midway through the half Knox trailed just 66-60.
But like many games that come down to the wire, the difference was free throw shooting.
Knox (3-18, 2-14 MWC) missed four shots from the charity stripe in the last ten minutes, while Illinois College made 15 of 16 foul shots in the same stretch. For the game Knox was eight of 18, while the Blueboys converted on 20 of 23 attempts.
“At this point I have no answers for the free throws,” a disapointed Purlee said. “We spend time on it in practice so it is not being neglected.”
“Coach has been harping on us about it all year, but of late we just haven’t done it as well. We need to step it up,” Jones said.
Carlson and Jones led Knox with 15 and 13 points respectively, while Jones led the team with six rebounds.
Knox’s next game is on the road Lake Forest College next Wednesday, Feb. 15.