The Tabor women persevered for a 57-55 win at Ottawa Saturday, despite losing their leading scorer, Janelle Rust, to injury eight minutes into the game.
With the win, Tabor, ranked 25 in the latest NAIA Division II poll, remained atop the KCAC with a 13-1 record and improved to 17-7 overall.
With the Bluejays leading 13-6 in the first half, Nikki Lewis stole the ball and passed ahead to Rust, who went up for the shot but injured her knee on the play.
Coach Shawn Reed said later the extent of the injury had not yet been determined.
Hannah Paust and Loren Oliver responded with back-to-back baskets for a 17-8 lead at 9:25, Tabor’s largest of the night. But the Braves rallied to tie the game at 18 with 6:22 left in the half, then took a 20-18 lead 30 seconds later.
Tabor responded with points from Jazmyne Smith, Oliver and Lewis to lead the Bluejays to a 29-26 halftime lead.
“It was difficult for the team to persevere because they care about Janelle, and she has been a tremendous player and leader for us all year long,” Reed said.
“However, I told them at halftime our goals do not change because our circumstances are different. We have a good team with good players and we will continue to fight. I think that showed in the second half.”
Tabor struggled getting shots to fall in the second half, finishing with 36 percent shooting from the field (18-50), 13 percent from behind the arc (1-8).
“We had a hard time getting open, and I did not feel we moved well without the ball,” Reed said. “Too many people were standing and watching. Obviously we had some different rotations tonight, which affected our production.”
The Braves built their largest lead of the night, 44-39, at the 9:42 mark. But Tabor answered with a 6-0 run to regain a slim, 45-44, lead after Lewis made a basket with 8:15 left to play.
The game remained nip-and-tuck to the end. Leading 55-54, the Braves missed an opportunity to take control by making a pair of free throws with 19 seconds to play, but could not capitalize.
Lewis brought the ball down court and drew a foul. She then sank both free throws for a 56-55 Tabor lead with seven seconds left.
“Nikki is a tremendous player,” Reed said. “She is a difference maker at both ends of the court. She hit some big shots and free throws for us tonight.”
Ottawa’s shot missed the target, and a foul sent Smith to the line with 0.1 on the clock. Smith made one of two for the two-point victory.
“We were fortunate to win,” Reed said. “Obviously, Janelle’s injury early in the game drastically changed some things for us. I thought we hung in there despite some hurdles, but I thought we made a lot of mistakes as well.”
Lewis led all scorers with 23 points.
Bethel––With improved offensive productivity, the Bluejays soared to a 37-point, 84-47, victory over Bethel Thursday.
The teams traded scores in the early going. Bethel never held more than a one-point advantage. The Threshers’ final lead, 8-7, came with 13:39 left in the opening half.
A 10-0 Bluejay burst gave the home team a 23-10 advantage. Tabor maintained a double-digit lead the duration of the half, with six Bluejays contributing points in as many minutes.
Tabor shot a sizzling 84 percent from the charity stripe in the first half (16-19) and took a 39-23 lead into the locker room at the half.
“(The game) started off a little slow, but not as slow as it has been,” coach Shawn Reed said. “We got into the groove quicker, so I was pleased with that. I felt like we weren’t as lethargic as we had been in first halves recently.”
The Bluejays continued to surge after halftime. Janelle Rust lit the fuse with three baskets from behind the arc in the first two minutes of play.
“That kind of catapulted us,” Reed said.
Loren Oliver made a basket at 16:25 for a 52-25 Tabor margin, and Moran sank a basket 20 seconds later to ignite a 9-0 Bluejay streak for a 61-27 Tabor lead at 14:09.
Tabor shot 47 percent from behind the arc in the second half (7-15) to finish at 40 percent for the night (8-20).
The Bluejays cruised to the finish, ending with their largest lead of the night.
“We only gave up 24 points in the second half, and we played a lot of people that normally don’t play and held (Bethel) to 33 percent (shooting) in the second half, so I was pleased with that,” Reed said.
Rust led all scorers with 22 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Katlyn Mary added 11 points, while Hannah Paust finished with 10.
Coming––Tabor will travel to Southwestern (11-3, 16-7) Thursday for a 6 p.m. tipoff before hosting the University of St. Mary (2-12, 8-18) Saturday at 5 p.m.