Few would expect to lose a game in which the team held the opponent without a point for one-quarter of the contest. But despite a 21-0 run in the first nine and half minutes of the second half, the Knox College men’s basketball team fell to rival Monmouth College 78-75 on Saturday, Feb. 18.
Senior night did not get off to great start for the Prairie Fire, as the Fighting Scots opened 52-30 halftime advantage through the use of the three-pointer.
The Scots shot 14 of 17 from behind the arc in the first half, including five threes from guard Michael DeDecker.
“It did impact the way we played in the first half,” senior forward Joe Kozak said of Monmouth’s hot start.
“When that was going on there was a feeling of shock on the court; it’s one thing to shoot well, it’s another to shoot the way that they did. What makes it worse is the fact that in the practices before the game, the defensive game plan revolved around the fact that statistically, they were a very poor shooting team,” he said.
Entering the final game the Scots (7-16, 5-13 MWC) were shooting just 32 percent from three point range, but shot 82 percent in the first half against the Prairie Fire. The unexpected performance spike also led to disbelief from the coaches’ box.
“There just wasn’t a whole lot we could do,” Head Coach Rob Purlee said.
“We could have taken more timeouts to adjust defensively, but we had not played a second of zone defense all year, it’s not in our repertoire, plus it would have sent a signal that we were in a panic mode, which we weren’t. They hit a couple shots that could only be described as a fluke,” he said.
Firmly believing the Scots would be unable to duplicate the performance, Purlee kept the game-plan for the second half simple.
“We talked about having a level of poise. We gave them the numbers and basically told them that this was never going to happen again,” he said.
“Coach kept telling us to make the second half into four minute games and let’s try and win each four minute game,” senior guard Tanner Carlson said.
“If we just kept winning those four minute games, we’d still have a chance and this limited the panic effect of being down 22 at half. Once we got some shots to fall and saw that they had cooled down we definitely used that to our advantage to keep the roll going,” Carlson said.
Not only did the Scots cool down in the second half, they went ice cold. Looking like a team that was inexperienced at holding a lead, Monmouth missed their first eight shots from the field in the second frame, while also failing to connect on their first eight free throws.
Knox turned the stingy defense into offense, scoring 21 unanswered points during that period, while also forcing four Monmouth players into foul trouble. This included DeDecker, who after scoring 23 points in first half, managed just four in limited playing time during the second half.
“I think we were very aggressive in the getting to the basket throughout the game as team,” Kozak said. “The fact that their [players] got into foul trouble caused them to play a little passive on defense so I think there were more opportunities when taking it inside.”
By the time a running jumper from freshman Armand Strickland rattled through the net at the ten minute mark, Knox had tied the game at 53, setting the stage for a back and forth finish.
The lead changed hands six times and the teams were tied on four separate occasions in the last ten minutes. Monmouth opened a four point advantage in the last minute, forcing Knox to attack from the outside.
With eight seconds remaining, Carlson was fouled on a three point attempt. After making the first two Carlson was put in the awkward position of trying to miss a free throw on purpose.
“Coach wanted me to miss off the left side of the rim and give [freshman David Jones] a chance to go up and get [the game tying basket],” Carlson said. “I shot it aiming more towards the left but somehow it still went in. Just a bad break.”
When the ball went in Knox was still down one, and after getting fouled on the inbound pass, Monmouth’s Brent Burrows made two free throws to seal the game.
Carlson would end up with a team high 26 points, while Knox also got solid performances from Kozak (11 points, nine rebounds) and sophomore Lukas Shaw (17 points, 11 rebounds).
As a team Knox outrebounded the Fighting Scots 38 to 27, and shot nearly 30 percent better from the field in the second half.
Despite the disappointing result of the up and down contest, the seniors were still proud of the way they ended their carrers.
“It was definitely a fun game to be a part of, and I’m proud of my guys that we fought back and made such a big run in the second half. I wish it would’ve gone our way down the stretch, but that happens sometimes,” Carlson said.
Kozak shared his teammate’s feelings.
“It stinks that we still fell short after such a great run in the second half. But I am very proud of the fact that as a team, we never ever quit. I think the game is a microcosm of our teams’ last few seasons in that we never gave up no matter how bad it got.”
The game was the final time on Tim Heimann court for Carlson, Kozak, as well as seniors Ben Wetherbee, Alex Schoebert and Jacob Lewis.
Coach Purlee recognized the effort and passion the group has played with while at Knox.
“They have nothing to be ashamed of. You want to go out giving it your all and without a doubt they did that. There isn’t a program on this campus that would not be proud to have had guys like these,” he said.