The Tabor men survived another down-to-the-wire finish, defeating KCAC-leading Spires of Saint Mary, 77-75, Saturday on senior night.
The win locked Tabor in a three-way tie for second place in the conference with Sterling and Friends, each holding 12-4 records in the KCAC.
Once again, the Bluejays struggled out of the gate. The Spires burst to a 6-0 lead before Nick Sauer made it 6-3 with a three-point basket at 17:25.
“Once we hit that first bucket, I thought the ball movement was awesome,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “The ball was flying around from side to side and guys were being aggressive with it. We got really good looks, and then guys made some shots.”
The Bluejays showed improved focus on offense.
“I’ve been talking about focus,” Ratzlaff said, “and I thought our guys were truly focused.”
With Ryan Chippeaux scoring the Bluejays’ next six points, Tabor surged 9-0 to leave the Spires trailing 16-10 at 11:51.
Reggie Butler, Michael Janzen and Sauer put on a show behind the arc with three straight baskets for a 25-12 lead at the 9:16 mark.
But the Spires outscored Tabor 15-5 in the next six minutes to narrow the gap to 30-27 with 3:03 left in the half.
The Bluejays ended the half with a 10-0 run for a 40-27 lead at intermission.
Tabor exploded to its largest lead of the night, 57-37, in the first seven minutes of the second half. But back-to-back three-point baskets by Saint Mary cooled Tabor’s momentum.
Saint Mary slowly chipped away at the lead, and eventually tied the game at 68 with 5:43 left.
“When (Saint Mary) came back, we all got a little rattled,” Ratzlaff said. “I got a little frustrated, the guys got a little frustrated. But we settled down.”
With momentum in Saint Mary’s favor, Chippeaux stepped up with five straight points and Brent Jackson followed with a basket at 2:47, swinging momentum to Tabor and giving the Bluejays a 75-68 advantage.
But the Spires didn’t roll over, and used a 7-0 surge to tie the game at 75 with 32 seconds left.
With the crowd on its feet, Tabor milked the clock. Robbie Samuel made a basket with three seconds left for a 77-75 Tabor lead. The Spires’ shot at the buzzer missed the mark, giving Tabor its fifth-straight win.
“I just think everybody played for each other, and nobody tried to do too much,” Ratzlaff said. “I thought we did a really good job of being unselfish, and I thought we really battled defensively.”
Chippeaux led Tabor with a game-high 18 points. Butler and Sauer each added 12 to pace the Bluejays.
With the loss, Saint Mary dropped to 14-2, 20-7, but still leads the KCAC.
Southwestern––Tabor once again found a way to win down the stretch, but it took time for the Bluejays to get rolling in their eventual 67-64 victory at Southwestern Thursday.
Tabor’s only lead of the first half was 2-0 when Marc Hopkinson scored off a Cameron Rust steal at the 18:16 mark. But the Moundbuilders surged to a 10-2 lead after a dunk at 12:28.
Tabor played without starting guard Chance LeBlanc, who has a torn ligament in his ankle and is expected to be out for at least a few weeks, coach Micah Ratzlaff said. Robbie Samuel picked up the slack.
“We didn’t want to start JT because we like him coming off the bench, so I thought Robbie did a great job just kind of taking over that spot,” Ratzlaff said.
The teams traded points until a Brent Jackson three-point basket at 5:52 ignited a 7-0 Tabor surge that tied the game at 23.
The Moundbuilders made two three-point baskets in the final four minutes. Samuel narrowed Southwestern’s halftime lead to 31-27 with a basket at the buzzer.
“I thought the first half we just weren’t focused,” Ratzlaff said. “We did OK on defense, but we were really bad on offense, and we just couldn’t get any confidence. So I was OK going in (at halftime) down by four. It could’ve been way worse.”
Southwestern maintained a narrow lead early in the second half. Hopkinson evened the score at 39 with a basket off a steal at 15:18 and followed with two game-changing three-pointers in less than a minute to shift the game in Tabor’s favor, 45-40.
“(Marc) can really shoot it,” Ratzlaff said. “He’s just been injured. He’s finally healthy; we’re finally getting to play him a little bit. He made some big shots down the stretch.”
Southwestern rallied to take a 48-46 lead, but Hopkinson answered with another three-pointer nine seconds later.
The Moundbuilders took their final lead, 54-53, with 5:50 left, but the game saw three more ties—two off three-point baskets by Southwestern.
“I tried to go zone—they hit threes on us. I tried to go man, and they hit turnaround jumpers on us,” Ratzlaff said. “We tried a lot of things defensively, but our guys hung in there and we battled to the end.
“We’ve been very fortunate in these close games, but it does show something. We don’t give up, and we play to the end.”
The final tie, 64-64, came with 49 seconds left in the game. A foul sent Ryan Chippeaux to the line with 33 seconds left. He made one of two for a 65-64 lead.
After the ensuing Southwestern shot did not fall, the Moundbuilders sent Jackson to the line. His two free throws widened Tabor’s advantage to 67-64 with eight seconds left.
Southwestern had an opportunity to tie the game at the buzzer, but a three-point shot bounced in and back out, sealing the Tabor victory.
Chippeaux scored nine of the Bluejays’ final 14 points on his way to a double-double.
“(Chippeaux) finally came back a little bit and played the way he could possibly play,” Ratzlaff said. “Hopefully, this will start a little run for him. Most of the year he was fairly consistent, so I’m expecting him to get back in it just like he did tonight.”
Chippeaux led Tabor with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Hopkinson added 15 points.
Coming––Tabor hosts Friends (12-4, 15-11) at 8 p.m. Thursday before going on the road to Kansas Wesleyan (5-11, 8-18) for a 7 p.m. tipoff.