The Friday before the Knox College women’s basketball team took on St. Norbert, head coach Emily Cline gathered the team at the end of practice to explain that the Prairie Fire had not once beaten the Green Knights in school history. Twenty-four hours later, her statement would be false.
Knox’s 79-68 victory over St. Norbert ended a 29-game losing streak to the Green Knights since the two teams starting playing in 1983.
“[St. Norbert has] such a legendary track record,” senior Sara Johnson said. “That was all we kept thinking about. We wanted to make history. We embraced it, and it gave us energy.”
The Green Knights (13-6, 10-5 MWC) have won each of the last three Midwest Conference regular season titles and four of the last five.
Knox’s win was also unexpected because this year’s version of the Green Knights were coming off a three point win over nationally ranked Cornell College, but Cline knew the Prairie Fire had some tactical advantages.
“I knew St. Norbert was not comfortable playing at our pace. They are a half-court offense, even more so this year, so we knew if we kept them at our pace would be key,” Cline said.
Knox forced the Green Knights into a season high 30 turnovers as the Prairie Fire took advantage of a young St. Norbert front line.
“They played a lot of freshman, so I think [the pressure] got to them worse than us,” Johnson said.
Sophomore Jessica Howard carried the Prairie Fire in the first half, scoring 13 of her career high 22 points in the first frame to help Knox take a 36-30 lead into halftime.
“[Howard] played a very good game,” sophomore Jodi Marver said. Marver, Knox’s leading scorer was benched for most of the first half after getting into foul trouble and credited Howard for being ready to take over.
“She really has been progressing throughout the season on her [inside] game, which has made her a harder player to guard,” Marver said.
In the second half, the Prairie Fire continued to push the pace and extended their lead to as large as 62-50, but the Green Knights would not go away without a fight.
“Once or twice, our lead got down to three points, and I kept thinking, ‘This is a big moment, this is where things go good or go bad,’ knowing this is where we lost our heads last year,” Johnson said, referring to Knox’s 90-75 loss to St. Norbert last season, a game in which the Prairie Fire held a nine point lead in the second half.
But unlike last season, this time the Prairie Fire held on. St. Norbert closed with just eight points in the game’s final five minutes and finished just 10-27 from the free throw line in the game.
In addition to Howard’s 22 points, Knox received 16 points from Marver.
“This game will be one that I will always remember,” Marver said. “The feeling I had while holding the ball as the clock winded down was indescribable.”
Cline described the win as a program changer, one that the players should use to fuel the final few games of the season, a point Johnson seconded.
“This really let us know that we can play with anybody,” Johnson said. “We’ve said that before, but now we’ve proved it to ourselves. It will help us when we play teams that are at the very least even with us.”
Knox (7-11, 5-8 MWC) closes the season by hitting the road for three of their final five games, including this Saturday’s contest against Lake Forest (10-9, 8-6 MWC).