The Tabor men snapped a two-game losing streak Saturday night with a double overtime, 85-81, victory over Bethany.
The win cooled a Swede team boasting three straight victories while Tabor improved to 8-4 in conference play and 9-12 overall.
“We’re coming off two tough losses, and they’re coming off three really big wins, so this is a big win for our guys,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “And so I was really proud of them.”
With the Swedes setting a fast pace, the teams traded scores until Chance LeBlanc and Robbie Samuel hit back-to-back baskets for an 8-4 Tabor lead six minutes into the contest.
The Bluejays built their largest lead of the night, 19-10, after a Nick Sauer basket at 8:23.
But a 14-0 Swede surge gave Bethany a 24-19 lead at 4:38. The Swedes pushed their lead to 28-21 at 3:58, but consecutive scores by Nick Sauer, Cameron Rust and Reggie Butler narrowed the margin to 28-27 with 2:24 left in the half.
Brent Jackson scored Tabor’s final four points of the half, but Bethany still led, 32-31, at the break.
“There wasn’t any rhythm in the game whatsoever,” Ratzlaff said. “It was just a punch, drag, whatever you want to call it, but I thought our guys played really hard.”
The Swedes twice built a six-point lead in the first four minutes of the second half, but back-to-back baskets by LeBlanc and Michael Janzen narrowed the gap to 41-39 at 16:15.
After a Samuel free throw, JT Nemit scored from behind the arc to tie the game at 43 at 14:08.
Tabor maintained its advantage until 9:11, when Bethany took a 51-50 lead. A three-point play by Marc Hopkinson followed by a Jackson basket and Butler dunk gave Tabor a six-point advantage, 57-51.
The Swedes then launched a 10-4 burst that tied the game at 61 with 5:49 left to play.
Late in the half, the Bluejays switched to zone defense in an attempt to slow the pace and reduce foul calls that kept sending the Swedes to the charity stripe.
“We had a hard time guarding them off the dribble, and so I just said go zone and guard the lane,” Ratzlaff said. “We still had a hard time guarding them, even in the zone, but it definitely helped.”
When Samuel scored at 2:56, the Bluejays led by three, 68-65. Free throws by the Swedes tied the game at 68 with 1:20 left. Each team had opportunity to score, but the buzzer sounded with both teams locked at 68.
In overtime, a 6-0 surge put the Swedes on top, 76-72, with 1:15 remaining. Rust scored at 1:07 to narrow the gap to 76-74, and a missed Bethany three-point shot and Tabor rebound kept the Bluejays in the game.
With three seconds left, Jackson scored on a second-chance basket to tie the game at 76. Bethany’s shot at the buzzer hit the rim but did not fall to send the game into a second overtime.
The teams continued to trade scores. With the game tied at 78 at 4:34, Samuel hit two free throws to put the Bluejays up by two, then Tabor gained a bit of distance when Sauer made a basket at 1:44 and Samuel followed with two free throws for an 84-79 Tabor lead with 54 seconds remaining.
Bethany hit two free throws nine seconds later to narrow the gap to 84-81, and had another chance to score after Tabor was called for a foul.
But a Bethany three-point shot missed its target.
Hopkinson grabbed the rebound and proceeded to make a free throw with 0.6 left on the clock to seal the four-point Tabor victory.
“I didn’t feel like there was ever a moment where guys had either given up or lost hope or any of that,” Ratzlaff said. “At the end, we had the weirdest lineup you could ever see in your life—there wasn’t a guy past 6-2 on the court. But they said they could get it done, so I believed them and they did.”
Jackson came off the bench to score a game-high 22 points for Tabor.
“Brent has a huge talent, and he’s growing up every day,” Ratzlaff said. “He did a great job just working hard, not getting emotional at all.”
Samuel added 17 for Tabor.
“I just feel like our guys try to do things the right way, for the most part—whether it’s on the court or off the court,” Ratzlaff said. “I really do believe that pays off, especially in close games.”
McPherson––The game was within the Bluejays’ reach Wednesday, but a shaky defensive performance left the home team trailing McPherson by six, 77-71, when the final buzzer sounded.
“We’re really struggling defensively right now, and there’s no excuses,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “We work on it every day. We’re smart enough, we’re athletic enough, we have enough players and we’re just not getting it done. Both teams scored enough points; we just couldn’t get any stops.”
The Bluejays played from behind the majority of the first half. Three-point shooting in the half (5-9, 56 percent) kept Tabor in the game.
McPherson used a 9-0 run to build a 19-10 lead, but back-to-back three-point baskets by JT Nemit and Reggie Butler brought Tabor within three at 19-16. The Bluejays claimed a 22-21 lead, but it bounced back-and-forth.
A traditional three-point play by Justin Malan put Tabor ahead, 32-30, at 3:46, but the Bluejays would score only one more point in the half. The Bulldogs took advantage for a 41-33 halftime advantage.
McPherson pushed the lead to 43-33 three seconds into the second half, but scores by Chance LeBlanc and Cameron Rust brought Tabor within four, 45-41, at 17:49.
Later Tabor transformed an 8-0 surge into a 53-51 lead when Ryan Chippeaux scored. Tabor still led by three, 57-54, when the Bulldogs responded with a 6-0 run to regain a 60-57 advantage with 9:34 to go.
Tabor later surged with scores by Brent Jackson and Marc Hopkinson for a 66-63 lead at the 6:11 mark.
The Bluejays took their largest lead of the night, 71-67, when Robbie Samuel drained a three at 3:04. It would be the Bluejays’ last points, however, as McPherson raced to the finish with 10 unanswered points.
“When you’re one of the better teams in the conference at the time, you have a target on your back, and you’ve got to be able to handle that—and we couldn’t handle it at home,” Ratzlaff said. “Sometimes we’re tough, sometimes we’re not. Tonight we weren’t tough enough.”
The Bluejays shot 47 percent from the field (27-58) and 50 percent (8-16) from behind the arc.
LeBlanc led Tabor with 15 points, followed by Sauer with 10. Chippeaux grabbed 11 rebounds for Tabor.
Coming––Tabor will play host to Bethel College (2-20) Thursday at 8 p.m., then will travel to Ottawa (8-14) Saturday for a 5 p.m. tipoff.