The Tabor College men traveled to Sterling Saturday night, tied for second place with the Warriors in the KCAC at 7-2. By the time the final horn sounded, Sterling owned its second win of the season over Tabor, this time 71-59.
In a game Tabor never led, the Bluejays’ only tie of the night came at 2-2 on a Nick Sauer field goal—ironically, his only points of the night. Sterling used the lethal 3-point shooting of Eddie Adesodun to build a 21-10 lead by the 8:42 mark.
Tabor coach Micah Ratzlaff said his team was its own worst enemy in the early going.
“Our transition offense was so bad in the first half,” Ratzlaff said. “My goodness, we missed so many layups.”
Ratzlaff said he wasn’t miffed at his team’s defense, though.
“Our zone works,” he said. “We actually held them in the first half. We don’t normally play zone, but it was part of our game plan. We just looked really timid offensively and I don’t know why.”
Sterling’s lead expanded to as many as 14 at 24-10 before the Bluejays showed signs of life. Robbie Samuel and Ryan Chippeaux combined for 10 points as Tabor whittled the lead to 31-23 by halftime.
Tabor looked like a different team in the opening moments of the second half, as Chance LeBlanc hit five points and Samuel added a three-point basket to propel the Bluejays into a 34-34 tie.
Ratzlaff said it wasn’t difficult to explain the difference: “We just hit shots.”
But Tabor’s bubble burst all too soon as Sterling countered with a 10-0 run to stretch its lead to 44-34. Keying the run was a decided advantage on the glass; the Warriors eventually amassed a 49-37 advantage on the boards.
“We’re just not a very good rebounding team,” Ratzlaff said. “We’re capable but that’s just our M.O. That’s one thing we really struggle with.”
Teetering on the brink of being blown out, Ratzlaff inserted Brent Jackson at the shooting-guard spot, and Jackson scored eight straight points and followed a Marc Hopkinson basket with a three-point bomb as Tabor sliced a 15-point deficit (at the 9:19 mark) to six points with 5:51 to go.
“Brent is as talented as anybody on our team,” Ratzlaff said. “We put him at the guard spot to try to get some more size on the floor and it worked for a while. Everything we tried seemed to work for a couple possessions but then we were right back searching for something else to work.”
Six points was as close as Tabor would get. Forced to gamble on defense, the Bluejays began putting the Warriors on the free-throw stripe, where Sterling scored its final 10 points on the way to the 12-point win.
Tabor (7-3, 8-11) was led by Jackson with 14 points and Samuel with 10. The Bluejays connected on 21 of 66 field goal tries (32 percent) and seven of 26 from behind the arc (27 percent).
Chippeaux pulled down eight rebounds, just two below his KCAC-leading average of 10, which is third in NAIA Division II.
Sterling (8-2, 14-7) had three players reach double digits, led by Adesodun with 21 points.
Kansas Wesleyan––It was a game that almost got away from the Tabor College men Wednesday night. Facing a Kansas Wesleyan squad with KCAC leading scorer Canon Fields on its roster, the Bluejays struggled on defense.
Fields scored a game-high 29 points, but the Bluejays managed to prevail, 90-84, with the Bluejay offense picking up the slack where the defense fell short.
“I thought we battled,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “We played against 40 minutes of zone (defense), and very few teams are going to do that. So I just wanted to make sure we got really good looks every possession, don’t shoot quick, and I thought we did do that.”
Even so, the Bluejays trailed early in the game.
Michael Janzen scored Tabor’s first seven points to keep Tabor close at 10-7 with 15:46 left in the half. A Reggie Butler basket from behind the arc, followed by two points from Ryan Chippeaux, tied the game at 12 with 13:23 to go.
Justin Malan sank a second-chance basket at the 10:11 mark, igniting a 14-0 Tabor surge and a 30-19 lead three minutes later.
“We got (Fields) in foul trouble in the first half, and so he sat (on the bench), and that’s when we went on our run,” Ratzlaff said.
The half ended with Tabor enjoying a 47-36 lead.
The second half opened with back-and-forth scoring, but Nick Sauer hit a three-point basket at 15:59 on his way to a game-high 20 points to give Tabor its largest lead of the night at 61-45.
But the Coyotes would not go quietly. With Fields scoring seven points, KWU launched an 11-0 run to narrow Tabor’s lead to 61-56 with 12:52 to play.
“(Fields) is a tough, tough matchup, and when they can get the foul count up really high early, and they give him the ball and just say, ‘Go with it,’ he’s tough to stay in front of,” Ratzlaff said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Fields made 14 of 18 free throws for the game. A 9-0 run by the Coyotes brought Wesleyan to within 72-70 with 7:19 to go. The Coyotes drew within one, 76-75, at 5:35, then took a 78-76 lead 30 seconds later on a three-point basket by Fields.
Free-throws from Sauer and Chippeaux followed by a Sauer three-point basket put Tabor back in front, 83-78, with 3:24 left. But Wesleyan answered with a 6-0 burst for an 84-83 lead with 1:47 on the clock.
“We tried three, four different matchups on (Fields) and we just struggled to get a stop, and so finally we went (to) zone (defense),” Ratzlaff said.
The strategy worked, as the Bluejays ended the game with a 7-0 run.
Sauer scored a team-high 20 points. Chippeaux finished with another double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Kingsley added 14 points, while Janzen contributed 12.
Coming—Tabor will host McPherson (1-9, 7-14) Wednesday with tipoff scheduled for 8 p.m, then will travel to Lindsborg Saturday to take on the Bethany Swedes (4-6, 8-10) with a 7 p.m. start.