ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The final margin was about the same, but the path that got them there was a lot smoother as the Tabor College men easily defeated Central Christian College of McPherson 98-65 in the second round of the Sterling Classic Saturday afternoon.
Eight days earlier, the Bluejays (4-1) beat the Tigers 101-69 in the first round of the Tabor Classic in a game that left head coach Don Brubacher frustrated with his team’s turnovers and spotty defense.
Those problems didn’t disappear this time around, but Brubacher was pleased with the progress.
“We had had six turnovers in the first six minutes,” he said. “We defended well in that stretch, but we were careless with the basketball. Other than that stretch, we really took care of the ball reasonably well and played pretty good basketball.”
Looking relaxed but focused following a disappointing loss the day before to Newman University, the Jays jumped to a 9-2 lead two minutes into the game on 3-pointers by Dustin Frost and Kevin Koehn and an old-fashioned 3-point play from Micah Ratzlaff.
The Tigers pulled within two at 11-9 with 5 minutes gone. But Tabor, fueled by eight straight points from Scott Brubacher, went on a 14-5 run and never really looked back. The Jays were up 48-27 at intermission and led by as many as 41 late in the second half.
Ratzlaff had the biggest game of his Tabor career. The 6-6 junior from Hillsboro scored 30 points before he was pulled with 12:50 to play. He was 10-for-14 from the field, 5-for-7 from behind the arc, and 5-for-5 from the line. Besides his scoring, he added seven assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot.
Defensively, Tabor held Central to under 27 percent shooting. The Tigers’ only scoring strategy seemed to be to get the ball to Matthew Turner. The 6-6 senior, despite having Bluejays in his face most of the game, launched 10 3-pointers, a couple from NBA distance. He made only four, but finished with 23 points.
Brubacher was pleased with the way his team responded to the Newman loss.
“You can expect one of two extreme reactions-either they’re so angry that they come out and just play incredibly well, or they’re so depressed they can’t play at all,” he said.
“We actually had something in between. I didn’t think it was aggravation or frustration or anger, but we did play hard and we looked like we were focused mentally and willing to give the physical effort. We played a good, solid basketball game from beginning to end.”
Newman-The Tabor Bluejays wilted when Newman University turned up the defensive heat late in the game, losing a nine-point lead over the last four minutes and the game in the last 20 seconds, 73-70, Friday night in their opener at the Sterling College Tournament.
After the Jets’ Tolanda Charles hit a soft five-footer in the lane on an inbounds play to cut Tabor’s lead to 66-59 with 3:57 to play, Newman coach Mark Potter called a quick timeout and called for a defensive full-court blitz when play resumed, sending two and sometimes three players after the basketball.
“It’s a make-or-break kind of defense,” coach Don Brubacher said afterward. “You’re either going to give up something real easy or you’re going to take the ball away from people. We gave it to them.”
In addition to the turnovers, the Jays missed key shots down the stretch.
“Once we started turning the ball over at the end, we did not respond with confidence and assurance and regain our composure,” Brubacher said.
Reggie Riley’s bucket with 1:55 to play brought the Jets even at 66.
After Micah Ratzlaff hit a pair of free throws 15 seconds later, Riley countered with a pair of buckets, the second one giving Newman its first lead since the early minutes of the game, 70-68, with 20 seconds to play.
The Jays still had an opportunity to tie or take the lead, but lost the ball out of bounds. The Jets’ David Allenback made one of two free throws after a desperation foul to secure the final margin.
The Jays led for most of the game even though it wasn’t their sharpest performance of the season. Tabor missed its first nine field goal attempts and, over the course of the game, missed a handful of open layups.
Tabor also hurt itself on the line, hitting only three of 10 free throws for the game. Two of the misses came on the front end of consecutive one-and-one opportunities with about seven minutes to play and the Jays leading by six.
“It was not just our play at the end (that lost the game),” Brubacher said. “We had some real breakdowns in the course of the game, also.”
Even with the missed layups, Tabor shot 48 percent from the field (29-60) but only 33 percent (7-21) from behind the arc.
Ratzlaff led the Bluejays with 15 points. Kevin Koehn added 11 and Dustin Frost 10.
Coming-This weekend, Tabor travels to Columbia, Mo., for the Columbia College Classic. The Jays will play the host team on Friday at 8 p.m. and then take on Central Methodist on Saturday at 1 p.m.