Nortey’s 20 lifts Micah-less Jays over Panhandle State Aggies

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Tabor College men’s basketball team’s accomplishment on the final night of the Tabor Classic was bigger than their 82-60 win over Oklahoma Panhandle State.


It was, according to coach Don Brubacher, believing they could win that game without the services of their leading scorer and playmaker, Micah Ratzlaff.


The 6-6 senior standout, averaging a team-leading 20 points a game, sat out Saturday’s contest after turning an ankle in the early minutes of the second half against Northwestern Oklahoma State University the previous night.


On that night, the Bluejays unraveled offensively with Ratzlaff out and saw a double-digit lead waste away into a 59-56 loss.


But on Saturday, the Bluejays were poised and prepared, and steadily pulled away from the Aggies from Goodwell.


“Losing Micah is a huge blow to us always, but at least tonight we seemed to be prepared mentally to deal with it,” Brubacher said afterward. “The execution was actually positive throughout the game and we played with some assertiveness also.”


No one was more assertive than Ernest Nortey, who came off the Bluejay bench to score 20 points, grab seven rebounds and play some outstanding defense. It was easily the best performance of the year for the Canadian transfer.


“Ernest was really well focused tonight,” Brubacher said. “There’s no doubt that in our offensive structure, he is still finding his way and it’s far from a finished work. But he produced very, very good offense. His play was positive on the defensive end, too. He played really well.”


Soon after entering the game, Nortey scored two quick buckets to boost a narrow Tabor lead to 17-9. He added a 3-pointer a few minutes later to give the Jays a 22-13 lead.


Tabor continued to build on that lead and went to the locker room at the intermission with a commanding 41-21 advantage.


Nortey added 13 points-including a slam dunk-over a seven-and-a-half-minute span midway through the second half.


But this game was far more than a one-man show.


Kevin Koehn chipped in 14 points, 12 of which came in that decisive first half when the Bluejays took control of the game. Scott Brubacher added 10 points and Lance Redetzke nine.


Freshman Tyson Ratzlaff came off the bench to score eight points on a perfect two-for-two from the field and four-for-four from the line. Ratzlaff also tied with Eric Driggers with a team-high four assists.


“Tonight I thought we executed extremely well defensively in the first half and also executed very well on the offensive end the first half,” Brubacher said. “The second half, I felt the offensive execution really remained pretty constant.”


The Jays’ muscle helped them in a game that grew increasingly physical. The officiating had the coaches from both teams at wit’s end, and Brubacher said his team carried the brunt of it.


“Our defense execution did let down significantly in the second half,” Brubacher said. “Part of it was because the play became ludicrously physical on the block.


“We responded reasonably well to that,” he added. “It was the same with the board play. We had people blatantly over the back, with obvious fouls being committed and no whistles blown.


“In general, we did maintain our discipline on both ends.”


NOSU-Lack of discipline and confidence in the second half of Friday’s rematch with Northwestern Oklahoma State undid the Bluejays, who had defeated the Rangers in Alva early in the season.


The two teams traded scores throughout most of the first half. With four minutes left before intermission and Tabor leading 28-25, Scott Brubacher buried a 3-pointer and five free throws. Dustin Frost followed with a 3-pointer of his own to give the Jays their biggest lead of the night, 37-25, with 39 seconds left.


The Rangers got a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer before the halftime buzzer to cut Tabor’s lead to seven, 37-30.


Tabor’s Lance Redetzke hit two field goals to start the second half on a solid note. But after Ratzlaff went down with the ankle a few moments later, the Bluejay offense stalled out even though Ratzlaff hadn’t yet scored in the game.


“Our offensive play absolutely got progressively worse through the half,” Brubacher said. “We became more and more stilted in our play, less creative, less certain, and shot the ball worse and worse.”


Even so, Tabor reclaimed the lead, 55-54, on a Kevin Koehn field goal with 2:41 to play. The Rangers’ Taylor Weibener responded with a 3-pointer a minute later to put NOSU back on top by two.


No one scored again until Dustin Frost hit one of two free throws with seven seconds left. Josh Regnier of NOSU was fouled on the rebound and sank both charity tosses with four seconds left to seal the win.


Koehn and Brubacher each finished with 13 points to lead Tabor, who shot a paltry 29 percent from the field in the second half and hit only eight of 26 3-point attempts for the game.


The Jays also struggled at the free-throw line, hitting only 12 of 22 attempts. Worse yet, they managed only nine of 21 shots under the basket.


“Losing Micah destroyed us offensively,” Brubacher said. “It didn’t have to. We have people who can score, we have people who can set up their teammates to score and are certainly capable offensively. But we played with a marked lack of confidence and direction on the offensive end.


“A large part of that was the discomfort of not having Micah with us.”


Coming-Tabor, now 8-5 overall but still undefeated at 3-0 in the KCAC, will still be at home this week with conference games against Sterling on Thursday at 8 p.m. and against Ottawa on Saturday at 7 p.m.

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