Jays tip off hoops season with three wins

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Kevin Koehn hit nine out of 10 free throws in the last 30 seconds of the game Saturday night to secure a 90-79 Tabor win over St. Gregory’s University.



The win gave the Bluejays a two-game sweep in the Tabor Classic tournament and a 3-0 start to the season.



Tabor already had the game in hand, 81-73, when Koehn was fouled on the inbounds play following a Cavalier 3-pointer.



In the chaos that ensued, officials called three technical fouls on the St. Gregory’s bench. That resulted in an early trip to the locker room for Cavalier coach Bryndon Manzer and a total of eight straight free throws for Koehn.



The 6-4 senior from Montezuma calmly knocked each one down like nails in a coffin to give the Jays an 89-73 advantage over the visitors from Shawnee, Okla.



After the Cavaliers buried a desperation 3-pointer and a bonus foul shot on their next possession, Koehn was fouled again with 14 seconds left and hit one of two charity tosses.



It was a bizarre end to an otherwise back-and-forth battle. The two teams traded leads to start the game before Ernest Nortey put Tabor on top for a good eight minutes into the game with a bucket on an assist from Micah Ratzlaff.



Nortey’s rebound and lay-in with 7:39 on the clock gave Tabor a 10-point lead, it’s biggest of the half. But the Cavaliers put together a 9-0 run over the next three and a half minutes to pull with one, 30-29.



Tabor still led at halftime, 41-38.



In the second half, the Cavaliers reclaimed the lead, 45-44, on a bucket by their 6-9 European post, Martin Veber.



The lead changed hands two more times before a 3-pointer by Dustin Frost put Tabor on top for good, 50-49, with 12:52 to play.



A dunk by Koehn with 8:46 to go extended the lead to 11, 62-51. St. Gregory’s crept back to within four points before Tabor built and then maintained a lead in the double-digit zone over the last five and a half minutes of the game.



Coach Don Brubacher credited his team’s late run to better ball movement.



“What helped us the most offensively in the last 10 minutes was simply that we passed the ball more crisply and more sharply,” he said. “We seemed, with that, to have a bit more patience on the offensive end.”



Koehn finished with 24 points to lead Tabor. Ratzlaff had 16, while Nortey and Lance Redetzke came off the bench to contribute 10 each.



Brubacher was pleased to start the season with three wins, but expressed frustration with his team’s inability to protect the basketball-the Jays are averaging 22 turnovers a game-and its inconsistent defense.



“We continue to have trouble with turnovers,” he said. “It isn’t that we can’t handle pressure. It’s just carelessness with the basketball. We’re throwing the ball to spots on the floor where there isn’t really anything to gain if it gets there-and it’s a high-risk pass to begin with.”



As for the defense, “It would be a lot easier if the same player or two were making all the defensive mistakes, but we’re passing it around,” he said. “We really can guard when we eliminate the big errors and play hard.”



Central Christian-In the tournament opener on Friday, the Bluejays’ 14-2 run to begin the second half broke open a competitive game and fueled a 101-69 win over Central Christian of McPherson.



With Tabor leading 47-38, Central’s Matthew Turner scored first after intermission. But Tabor’s Kevin Koehn answered with a bucket down low off a feed from Dustin Frost.



Micah Ratzlaff followed with a basket and free throw and Frost and Chris Popp each added a bucket before Koehn scored twice more to boost Tabor’s advantage to 59-40 with 15:39 to play.



The Tigers never threatened after that. The Jays’ biggest lead of the night was 34 points, 94-60, with 5:16 to play.



Tabor led by as many as 12 points late in the first half, but Central pulled to within three on the shooting of Turner and Tony Romero, who was 4-for-4 from behind the arc before intermission.



Turner led the Tigers with 21 points, though he hit only two of 14 3-point attempts. Romero finished with 20, including five of six 3-pointers.



Brubacher felt his team was slow to react to the Tigers’ two shooters in the first half, but adjusted in the second half.



“I thought we did a better job of guarding their scorers at the spots on the floor where they were most effective,” he said.



As a team, the Bluejays shot nearly 64 percent from the field in the second half and better than 60 percent for the game-including 40 percent (10-25) from behind the arc.



“We executed better offensively in the second half,” Brubacher said. “But we still are too impatient. We want to make things happen without making any really significant effort to make something good happen.”



Koehn led the Jays’ scoring with 20, followed by Ratzlaff with 17, Frost with 25, and Lance Redetzke, who gave the Jays a boost with some solid offensive play off the bench, with 11 points.



Northwestern Okla.-Tabor overcame an 11-point deficit late in the second half to beat an athletic Northwestern Oklahoma State team in Alva, 78-75, in last Tuesday’s season opener.



The Bluejays started strong, building a 12-point lead within the first eight minutes of the game. They appeared to be on the verge of taking control of the contest.



But the athletic Rangers, benefitting from some homecourt officiating, crawled back to within four, 41-37 by halftime.



“We made some mistakes, and the court became a very difficult place for us to compete on,” Brubacher said.



Led by Micah Ratzlaff, who scored 23 points in his Tabor debut, the Bluejays overcame the late deficit and the officiating to pull out the win.



Ernest Nortey, the 6-4 junior from Canada, contributed 15 points to the cause, hitting four of five field goals and seven of eight free throws.



Kevin Koehn, the only other Bluejay to score in double figures, added an even dozen.



Looking ahead-On Friday and Saturday, the Bluejays will compete in Sterling’s version of the Tabor Classic. The Jays will play Newman University on Friday and will face Central Christian again on Saturday.



Both games are scheduled to start at 4 p.m.

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