Senior night for the men’s basketball team could not have gotten off to a better start for the Prairie Fire: several minutes into the second half, Knox led Illinois College 57-35.
The lead was in large part to the hot shooting (a whopping 60.7 percent) of the Prairie Fire in the first half. The Blueboys could not handle the inside presence that senior Lukas Shaw or the staggering shooting of sophomore Armand Strickland, who made four three-pointers in the first half alone.
The Prairie Fire were clearly running on Senior Night emotion to carry them against IC, a team that defeated the Prairie Fire 78-62 in stunning comeback fashion just one month earlier.
“You dream about this moment, about this opportunity [to play in college],” Shaw said of the night. “Now it’s slipping away. I performed as well as I [could], and I pushed as hard as I [could].”
The tide began to shift in favor of IC just after the start of the second half, much as it did in their last meeting: while the Blueboys could not buy a bucket in the first half, they came out hot in the second, drilling 64.1 percent of their shots after the break. Knox seemed anxious as their lead continually shrank in the second half, committing several key turnovers that turned into fast break opportunities for Illinois College.
The Prairie Fire committed 14 turnovers over the course of the game; Illinois College committed just three in the first half and none in the second, limiting their mistakes at critical junctures. The run enabled the Blueboys to pull away from Knox down the home stretch and to snag victory from the jaws of defeat by the score of 91-85.
“When it comes down to it, we need to play defense for 40 minutes to win basketball games,” Knox head coach Kevin Walden said of the loss. “We played okay defense in the first half and forced them away from shooting the ball well. But the second half [came] around and we just [could not] stop them.”
To lose in such a heartbreaking fashion is tough enough, but to do so Senior Night is unthinkably difficult. Shaw clearly felt the effects, collapsing to the court as the final buzzer rang only to be helped off the court by coach and teammates.
“It has meant everything to me,” Shaw said. “[Playing] sports here is a full-time job. You go to morning practice, you go to workouts, you think about it all day, but overall, it’s been the most fun job I’ve ever had.”
Walden recognized the senior’s diligence after the game, saying, “Lukas had a really good game. He’s been one of the hardest workers in the year that I’ve been here, and I feel sorry for him and [senior Tyler Olson] because they put in a lot of sweat and hard work. This season hasn’t been as successful as we wanted it to be.”
Shaw finished his senior night with 25 points and five rebounds, while Olson finished with six point and six rebounds.
While a one-win season is not how any senior wants to close their collegiate career, Shaw remained remarkably poised and focused on the next game, saying, “We can continue to improve and get better on the things that have hurt us. We can still improve our execution. We failed to execute at critical junctures tonight.”
gTo close his and Olson’s careers, the Prairie Fire take on Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisc. this Saturday, a team that handed Knox a 91-51 loss the last time they played in mid-January.