After Tabor took a 14-6 lead 6:09 into the first half, Bethel rallied to take a 22-20 advantage. A field goal by Kyle Kroeker knotted it 4:38 before the half expired.
Then Mike Rousell got a hand on a pass, setting up a steal by Kyle de Blonk. De Blonk sent a lead pass to Rousell, who finished the fast break with a 1-handed dunk.
Tabor at that point had a 24-22 lead, but entered intermission tied with the Threshers 25-25.
Zach Vanselow dominated the early portion of the second half, scoring the first basket and rolling up 10 points in the first 6:47 of the period.
During the run, Vanselow finished off a lob from Kyle Kroeker for a 35-29 lead and knocked down a midrange jumper that made it 37-35 just prior to a Tabor timeout.
The Bluejays continued to wreck havoc in the paint, with Jared Hett grabbing the rebound of his own miss and scoring the putback for a 39-35 lead.
Hett scored again a moment later, pushing the lead to 41-35. Hett also had what looked like a layup-and-one opportunity wiped off the board by a traveling call during a 12-3 run that made it 47-38 with 9:54 to go.
Hurtling after an overthrown lead pass with 4:54 to go, Hett whipped a no-look desperation ball over his head and back into play under the Bluejay basket—and set up a score for Vanselow in the process.
The silk-purse layup made it 51-48, and Orson Thomas followed it up with a traditional 3-point play with 3:55 to go.
Tough defense, combined with a 5-for-6 run of one-and-one free throws by Aaron Whitelaw, finished the game. Vanselow totaled 20 points on 10-for-12 shooting, Whitelaw finished with 13 and Thomas 12.
Tabor went 0-for-13 from 3-point range, but hit 53 percent of its 2-point attempts.
Jared Hett lines up a shot in the first half of a defensive duel. Southwestern had outscored Tabor 76-58 in the previous meeting, Jan. 12 in Winfield. Hett and the Bluejays one-upped the Moundbuilders, 58-57 Thursday.
Tabor took a 9-2 lead in the early going, but Southwestern carried a 27-26 lead into halftime.
Orson Thomas swatted two Moundbuilder field goal attempts in the first 2:46 of action and, except for a pair of field goals by Zach Vanselow, scored all of the early points.
Southwestern whittled the Bluejays lead down to 11-9, and Tabor pushed it back to 21-13 during Thomas’ second shift of the game. Thomas’ dunk attempt 16 seconds after he checked back in drew a foul, and he knocked down both free throws to give Tabor an 8-point lead, its biggest of the night.
With 3:27 left in the half, Moundbuilders forward Rodney Jackson collected three consecutive offensive rebounds during one possession. Southwestern outrebounded Tabor 24-13 in the first half and 42-35 overall, but got only seven second-chance points out of 15 offensive boards.
Southwestern streak-shooting guard Alwyn Jordan found his range at the end of the half, scoring all of the visitors’ points during a 7-2 run heading into the break.
Tabor dominated the early phase of the second half, outscoring the Moundbuilders 10-2 in the first 2:49.
Kyle Kroeker got the Bluejays out of the gate with a triple assisted by Aaron Whitelaw. Caleb Good finished the run with a 3-pointer set up by Kroeker and a steal-and-score layup at 17:11.
The Moundbuilders flashed their quick-strike ability, cutting cut it to 36-34 during a 43-second burst and taking a 48-43 lead at 10:16 on three consecutive 3-point shots drilled by Jordan during a 1:12 span.
Tabor tightened its defense on Jordan and rallied to tie it 49-49 with 6:27 to go.
Thomas made it 51-all with an offensive rebound and score, then knotted it at 53 with a soft touch at the end of a fierce dribble-drive with 3:38 to go.
Tabor used a timeout after the field goal to set up its endgame strategy, and whatever they settled in the huddle paid immediate dividends.
Whitelaw stripped the ball from Moundbuilder point man Justin Diggles on the ensuing possession, and Mike Rousell converted the turnover into instant offense, knocking down a 3-pointer with 3:11 to go.
Diggles scored after an offensive rebound at the other end, but missed the “and-one” foul shot that had the potential to tie the game.
The teams traded misses, but Whitelaw used a defensive rebound and a 30-foot outlet pass to set up a breakaway layup for Rousell, who finished the play and to made it 58-55 lead with 2:02 left. Jordan scored with 1:20 to go, making it 58-57.
A conspiracy of stingy defense and missed opportunities kept both teams off the scoreboard the rest of the way.
With just under 26 seconds to go, Whitelaw deflected Diggles’ dribble off the Moundbuilder guard’s leg, and Southwestern’s hopes rolled out of bounds near the scorer’s table.
But much to the chagrin of the pink-clad masses in attendance, the officials did not see it that way, ruling instead that Whitelaw touched it last.
A chorus of boos downshifted into cheers when a traveling call went against Diggles, who fell down trying to get past Whitelaw a moment later.
Another one-and-one miss led to a last-ditch 3-point try by Diggles.
The win gave Tabor a victory over the team chosen nearly unanimously to win the conference in preseason polling.
Coming—Tabor (8-8) wraps up its regular season schedule against Sterling (11-5) at home Thurdsay and Kansas Wesleyan (10-6) on the road Saturday.