The first year for Knox men’s basketball under Head Coach Kevin Walden did not go as well as many would have liked. The Prairie Fire managed just one win on the season and finished last in the Midwest Conference for the fifth consecutive season.
In a season where nearly everything went wrong for the Prairie Fire, the best thing the team can take away from this season is the way they played down the stretch.
While the efforts did not produce any victories, Knox clearly performed better in their final two home games against Monmouth College and Illinois College than they did at any other point in the season. Unfortunately, the Prairie Fire could not outlast the Fighting Scots in double overtime while the Blueboys pulled off an epic comeback to ruin Senior Night.
In these two games, Knox displayed greater offensive presence, and effort and dedication than they had early in the season. If they can put together more games like the last few this season next year, that’s when the results are going to come in the win column.
Overall, Knox’s struggles came down to one thing: defense. Coach Walden repeatedly referred to the defense as the Achilles heel of the team, and the numbers back up his claim.
The Prairie Fire surrendered over 88 points a game and allowed opponents to shoot over 51 percent from the field this season. This lackluster performance is just not going to cut it.
Whether a matter of strategy or effort, Knox did a poor job defending scorers one-on-one and gave up too many second chance opportunities. Playing defense on the back side of the court is not easy, but it has to be done in order to keep the opponent from pulling away. The Prairie Fire are also going to have to improve their defensive rotations to stop teams that are more patient with the ball.
Knox had a very young team this season. The impending departure of seniors Lukas Shaw and Tyler Olsen leaves younger players faced with the task of bouncing back next season.
At the forefront is junior David Jones, who is going to be in a position to lead the team next season. At times, Jones dominated, his 23-point performance against Monmouth being the prime example; other times, his impact was minimal. The key for Jones is to work hard to get the ball underneath and finish strong when he gets to the rim. Once he does that consistently there are few post defenders in the Midwest Conference that can defend him.
But Knox will not be effective on the inside without help from the outside. Junior Eric Miller and sophomores Mitch Murphy and Armand Strickland were streaky with their shooting and did not exhibit the necessary patience for the offense to work on a consistent basis. They are going to have to tighten the screws in order for the Prairie Fire to legitimately compete in the Midwest Conference.