The Knox College men’s basketball team had little time before pleasure Thursday night as it headed to Wisconsin for the start of its Midwest Conference schedule against Ripon and Carroll.
Chad Campanelli, a dentist in Madison and a former Prairie Fire athlete whose father Joe was football coach at Knox and later Galesburg High School athletic director, treated the team to dinner.
“They all thought I talked to long because they’re wanting to get out of here and watch the LeBron James fiasco,” said Knox coach Rob Purlee from the road.
The more serious stuff starts tonight at 2-1 Ripon where the 1-2 Fire start MWC play and follow that Saturday with a game at 2-1 Carroll.
“We’ve got seven games in December and six of those seven are against teams that made it to their conference tournaments in their prospective leagues,” said Purlee. “This is our toughest month of the season.”
Coming off two straight two-win seasons, Knox is ahead of its recent pace, an overtime loss to Central College one of the defeats that could easily have been reversed.
“I’m not in love with the face we haven’t been able to finish our last two games, especially at home,” said Purlee. It’s all about how we finish and we’ve been saying that from the beginning.”
But signs of improvement are sprouting and Purlee has certainly noticed.
Joe Kozak turned in a 28-point, 14-rebound double-double against Central — just one of four double-doubles among MWC players this far this season and is averaging 14.7 points per game. Tanner Carlson is averaging 13.7 points and Ben Wetherbee 12.0. Based on the early performances among league teams, the Fire have started to climb from the bottom of the MWC stat list.
“We’ve found out we’ve got some offensive weapons,” admitted Purlee. “We did some things really well.
“In our first three games we had six different guys that showed us they’re capable of being able to score in bunches.
“That’s the first time we’ve had that many guys who have been able to do that.”
But the Fire would quickly trade the improving stats for some more marks in the win column and taking them on the road would be big.
The Knox College women’s team will also take a 1-2 record to Ripon and Carroll this weekend.
Galesburg’s Kelly Ricketts leads the Prairie Fire with a 13.0 scoring average to rank sixth in the MWC and Jenny Haskell is averaging 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds.