â€œWe waited and waited in Coach (Rob) Purleeâ€™s first year,â€ Knox senior forward Matt Goedeke said. â€œNow itâ€™s nice to say weâ€™ve got that over with and can just go play.â€
Eureka (0-1) beat the Fire 88-57 in last yearâ€™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.
â€œI knew with them graduating a lot of guys and us returning a lot of guys, weâ€™d have a pretty good chance,â€ 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.
â€œWe played furious and got after it,â€ 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.
â€œTo our credit, I donâ€™t think we really care who the heck is on the floor,â€ Purlee said. â€œWe feel comfortable putting out any combination of people out there.â€
Wetherbeeâ€™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.
â€œMy first year here we led the league in turnovers,â€ Purlee said. â€œYou can imagine how gratifying it is to have one turnover in the first half to open the season.â€
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 Fultonâ€™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.
â€œOur thing all year isnâ€™t about how we start but how we finish,â€ Purlee said. â€œWe got off to a good start. Now weâ€™ll see how we end up.â€