Senior Ben Wetherbee needed just one three-pointer to join the record books Tuesday, Jan. 31, against Grinnell College. Fittingly, he hit three.
The Sydney, Australia native made his 187th career three-point basket, more than anyone in the 113-year history of Knox College basketball. Wetherbee topped the previous record (184) set by Reggie Bowman in 2004.
“Ben breaking the record means a lot to Knox,” senior Joe Kozak said. “It proves that someone can dedicate themselves on the hardwood and in the classroom and excel at both.”
Wetherbee, an economics major, was named to the Dean’s List fall term and interned with JP Morgan Stanley last summer. He is also a member of the golf team.
“The record is certainly a credit to his ability,” Head Coach Rob Purlee said. “Records are made to be broken and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Wetherbee set the mark despite reduced playing time this season. He has zero starts in the first 18 games and is averaging just 14.8 minutes per match. Last season, he started 21 of 23 games and averaged 30.7 minutes per contest.
“Accepting a smaller role was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do and I’m not sure if I could have handled it without the support of my girlfriend, close friends and family,” Wetherbee said. “No matter how hard it was to come to terms with, I tried to accept it and make the most of my final year. I didn’t want it to affect the way I played or the attitude I had towards the game.”
Wetherbee is still the Prairie Fire’s leading three-point shooter this year, hitting 25-73 (.342) from beyond the arc. He is averaging 5.5 points per game.
“Ben is a tremendous basketball player and an incredible human being,” junior forward Lukas Shaw said. “It’s really special to be able to say that I had the opportunity to play with a player of his caliber. It doesn’t happen very often.”
Wetherbee and Kozak are both closing in on another milestone: 1,000 career points. Wetherbee needs 73, while Kozak needs 78.
Even with a record-setting performance, Knox (3-15, 2-11 MWC) fell to a strong Grinnell team (16-1, 12-1 MWC) 128-87 on the road. The Pioneers are No. 1 in the Midwest Conference and won their fifth straight game to remain undefeated at Darby Gymnasium.
The Prairie Fire had a solid start, shooting 12-of-27 (44 percent) from the field in the first half. The Pioneers, who averaged 110 points per game last season, have led Division III in scoring six times since head coach Dave Arseneault was hired in 1989.
In November, 6-4 junior guard Griffin Lentch broke the NCAA Division III single-game scoring record with 89 points against Principia College.
Knox held Lentch to 23 points, but watched as Grinnell nailed 29-of-67 three-pointers on the night. Five Knox players scored in double-digits, including freshman Armand Stricklin, who had 13 points on six-for-ten shooting and four assists. It was Knox’s seventh straight loss since beating Monmouth College on the road Jan. 7.
“We just didn’t match [Grinnell’s] intensity at the start,” Jones, who scored 12, said. “We let the system get to us and with them, you can get in a hole quickly.”
Close loss in Jacksonville
Knox’s game versus Grinnell came on the heels of a 70-56 loss to Illinois College Saturday, Jan. 28. The Fire fell to IC (4-13, 2-10 MWC) despite being tied with 12:30 to go in the second half. The Blue Boys snapped a nine-game losing streak with win, improving to 4-7 at home.
Kozak led the Fire with 24 points and seven boards, going 11-of-16 from the field. Other contributors included senior Tanner Carlson, who had seven assists, Wetherbee, who scored eight points and sophomore David Jones, who finished with six points, seven rebounds and three steals.
“We had to sort of tweak some things in our defensive game-plan that we believed would throw them for a loop,” Kozak said. “They are a very talented team offensively.”
The two teams played back and forth the entire first half, with eight ties and six lead changes. IC’s greatest lead was four points.
“We would get it close, then have some sort of break down that we couldn’t afford on [the road,]” Jones said. “It was a team breakdown. It’s not like we weren’t ready.”
Knox and the Blue Boys went into halftime tied 28-28. The Fire jumped out to a 30-28 lead to start the second half with a Kozak jumper.
Illinois College, however, reeled off eight straight points after back-to-back threes by Isaac Grapperhaus. Knox then tied the game with 12:30 remaining in the game on three-point baskets by freshman Mitch Murphy and Kozak on three straight possessions.
It was the closest the Fire would come for the remainder of the game. IC held Knox scoreless for the last 4:38, scoring 12 unanswered points to end the game.
After two losses last week and only five games remaining, Knox can no longer qualify for postseason play.
With nine freshmen and four sophomores on the roster, Knox has a talented group of underclassmen and is ready to finish the year out strong and begin building for the future. Eight Knox freshmen have logged minutes this season, led by Murphy, who is averaging 6.3 points per game.
“The goal from here on out is to take every game one at a time and to attack like it’s our last,” Shaw said. “Because it very well could be.”
The Fire will play Carroll University on the road, Friday at 7 p.m. They will look to split the season series after falling to the Pioneers 68-61 Dec. 3 at home.