The men’s Prairie Fire basketball team fell 115-94 to second place Grinnell on Wednesday, despite a career performance from freshman Deandre Weathersby. The game looked to be a close one early on, as Knox built a lead in no small part due to their dominant interior play against a small Grinnell lineup and the play of Weathersby, who set career highs in points (23), steals (four) and assists (six).
“This is Dre’s kind of game,” Head Coach Kevin Walden said. “He’s fast, quick, athletic … the one thing you can’t really teach is effort, and he always puts in maximum effort all the time.”
As soon as the Pioneers’ press game started to pick up, however, Knox looked lost. The full court press Grinnell put on forced 24 turnovers over the course of the game for Knox, who turned the ball over early and often. Especially harrowing was the pressure Grinnell put on the Prairie Fire on inbound plays, which forced several turnovers and the unnecessary use of a timeout for Knox. The turnovers combined with a bevvy of Pioneers’ threes just before the half led to a 56-39 halftime deficit for the Prairie Fire.
“It was the empty possessions that killed us in the first,” Walden said. “I always tell the guys that if you make a turnover, just leave it at that. We just can’t have consecutive empty possessions.”
In the second half, however, Knox came out with renewed focus, steadily chipping away at the lead over the first eight minutes of the second half. The Prairie Fire pulled within five on a massive dunk from senior David Jones, causing the crowd to collectively rise and roar. Just when it seemed as if Knox had some momentum on their side, junior Jack Taylor of Grinnell drained a trio of three-pointers over the span of 30 seconds, securing a 14-point lead for the Pioneers.
Taylor didn’t pocket triple digit points in this contest (as he did when he took home an NCAA-record 138 against Faith Baptist Bible), though his string of nine was sufficient to strike a dagger through the heart of Knox, who were only able to trade points as the game wound down. As soon as the Pioneers started hitting their free throws, the game was over for the Prairie Fire, who turned the ball over at an alarming rate as the game came to a close.
“Against them, you need to be aggressive, but you need to make good decisions all over the court. You can’t let them rack up turnover after turnover and control the pace. When we had tempo, we had control of the game,” Walden said. “When we didn’t, it got out of hand pretty quick.”