The Tabor College men (1-1) secured a big conference win Saturday by defeating McPherson College (0-2) on the road, 64-61. The win came after a narrow home loss to Sterling College Thursday, 71-62, in the Bluejays’ conference opener.
“This team could be really good,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “But I want it to be now, I don’t want to wait. I don’t want the young kids to think, ‘Oh, in the future we’re going to be good.’ They’re good enough to be good now.”
McPherson—It took a down-to-the-wire finish to get the job done, but senior forward and all-conference returnee Ryan Chippeaux stepped up for his team in the final moments of Saturday’s 64-61 win.
“At the end of the day, your all-conference player needs to step up,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “I know it’s not going to happen every time, but it needs to happen the majority of the time. And he did.”
Both teams remained deadlocked through most of an extremely low-scoring first half. With only nine minutes left in the half, Tabor had scored four points—two of which came at the free-throw line. Fortunately, the Bluejays held the Bulldogs to seven.
With 8:57 to go, Chippeaux broke things open with a three-pointer to tie the game, 7-7. That sparked a back-and-forth battle for the lead, but Nick Sauer and JT Nemitt hit consecutive threes to give Tabor a narrow advantage.
McPherson capped an eight-point run with two free throws to tie the game at 18 with just over 3 minutes left. The Bulldogs carried a slim 25-21 lead into intermission.
Galvanized by what Ratzlaff called “one of the better halftime speeches of my career,” the Bluejays bounced back in the second half.
“We got down, we really struggled hitting shots, just like the rest of the year,” Ratzlaff said. “I was really proud of the guys for getting back in the game.”
Tabor chipped away at the Bulldog lead, then scored on a steal to tie it, 36-36, near the 14-minute mark.
After a brief but intense battle for the advantage, Brent Jackson drained a three-pointer to give Tabor a one-point lead. Teammates Michael Janzen and Robbie Samuel combined for five points to put the Bluejays ahead.
But with four minutes remaining, the Bulldogs rallied again to tie the score at 54.
But Chippeaux came through with a basket to take hold of the lead and followed it with another score off a rebound to make it 58-54 with 2:42 left. With just over a minute left, McPherson sank a three-pointer and scored off a steal at 37 seconds to retake the lead at 61-60.
After Sauer made two free throws for a one-point lead, McPherson missed two charity shots on its next possession. Tabor got a second big stop in as many minutes on defense, then Chippeaux sank two free throws for the 64-61 victory.
“I thought our guys really got going when they were working as a team to get (Chippeaux) the ball,” Ratzlaff said. “It’s nice to see guys thinking, ‘How can we get better?’ instead of, ‘How can I save the day?’ I think we took a step forward. I really do.”
Chippeaux finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds for yet another double-double. Samuel added 11 points and eight rebounds and Sauer added 10 points and eight boards. Jackson contributed eight points.
“Robbie finally broke out of his shell a bit,” Ratzlaff said. “JT did a good job taking care of the ball down the stretch. He’s not usually playing that many minutes and he did a good job.”
Tabor shot just 21 percent from the field and 18 percent from three-point range in the first half, compared to 51 and 14 percent in the second half. The Bluejays outrebounded McPherson, 41-40, and made 16 of 20 free throws. The Bulldogs made 15 freebies in 23 attempts.
Sterling—Tabor couldn’t keep pace with the Warriors and gave the game away with too many mental errors to suffer a 71-62 loss Thursday.
“It’s tough to lose right away, especially at home,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “We just have to grow up and realize each possession is a big deal.”
The Bluejays matched the Warriors’ intensity for the first few minutes of play, but couldn’t settle into a scoring rhythm. Sterling led 6-5 early.
The Warriors nailed two three-pointers and a couple free throws for an eight-point run that established a double-digit lead.
Tabor couldn’t get shots to fall, but ground away on defense, trailing 36-25 at the break. The Bluejays shot just 32 percent from the field in the first half and made two of 14 attempts from beyond the arc.
“I thought in the first half our spacing was off, our ball movement was slow, we didn’t attack,’’ Ratzlaff said. “When you’re not scoring at all on the other end, defense is really tough.”
Tabor outscored Sterling in the second half, 37-35, but never gained enough momentum as the Bluejays danced around the double-digit deficit mark for most of the period.
They had better luck shooting, with 36 percent accuracy from both the field and the perimeter, but not enough to tip the scales in their favor.
“Everybody has to step up,” Ratzlaff said. “I still believe we’re going to be pretty good, we’ve just got to get better. And we’ve got to get better now.”
With the guards struggling to find the basket, Tabor’s big men led the way with 12 points for Nick Sauer and 11 for Ryan Chippeaux to keep the latter’s double-digit scoring streak alive.
The Bluejays got eight points apiece from Michael Janzen and Reggie Butler. Chippeaux and Robbie Samuel led Tabor on the boards with eight rebounds each, but Sterling had the overall edge, 48-41.
Coming—The Bluejays are scheduled to host conference foe Bethany College at 8 p.m. Thursday before traveling to Bethel College Saturday at 7 p.m.