“We waited and waited in Coach (Rob) Purlee’s first year,” Knox senior forward Matt Goedeke said. “Now it’s nice to say we’ve got that over with and can just go play.”
Eureka (0-1) beat the Fire 88-57 in last year’s season opener, but with their top two players graduated and leading returning scorer Andy Leppard out with illness, this one was a blowout going the other way.
“I knew with them graduating a lot of guys and us returning a lot of guys, we’d have a pretty good chance,” Purlee said.
Clinging to a 16-15 lead with 9:30 to play in the first half, Knox outscored the Red Devils 31-11 in the remainder of the half to lead 47-26.
“We played furious and got after it,” said Goedeke, who tied Ben Wetherbee for the team lead with 15 points and added game-high five steals.
A relentless Fire defense held Eureka to just two field goals in the last 8:27 of the half. Twelve Knox players saw action in the first 20 minutes, and 11 played at least five minutes.
“To our credit, I don’t think we really care who the heck is on the floor,” Purlee said. “We feel comfortable putting out any combination of people out there.”
Wetherbee’s three-point play following a steal by Doug Lillibridge gave the Fire their largest lead of the half at 47-25. Knox forced 13 Eureka first-half turnovers while committing just one of its own.
“My first year here we led the league in turnovers,” Purlee said. “You can imagine how gratifying it is to have one turnover in the first half to open the season.”
An 8-0 run in the first 2:45 of the second half gave Knox a 55-26 advantage, its largest of the contest. The last two baskets in that run came on back-to-back layups by Goedeke.
Wetherbee finished 4-for-10 from 3-point range, leading a 6-for-17 effort from beyond the arc for the Fire. Ian Horvath was the third Knox player to reach double figures in scoring, finishing with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Jordan Kindred led Eureka with a game-high 20 points. Former Carl Sandburg College player Josh Wagner added 14 points for the Red Devils.
Monmouth-Roseville High School graduate Tanner Schreck played 23 minutes off the bench and scored four for Eureka. Another local product, North Fulton’s Jake Kuenzl, played four scoreless minutes as a reserve.
Knox will look to go to 2-0 when it hosts Central at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“Our thing all year isn’t about how we start but how we finish,” Purlee said. “We got off to a good start. Now we’ll see how we end up.”