ORIGINALLY WRITTEN MATT INSLEY & DON RATZLAFF
Fortunately for the Tabor men’s basketball team, life occasionally comes with second chances.
The Bluejays will need a second chance to make it into the NAIA Division II national tournament after losing at Saint Mary College Saturday night, 72-63.
In a game marked by pitiful shooting, a gross of free throws, and poor officiating, Saint Mary did just enough in the second half to win the KCAC regular-season conference crown and earn an automatic bid in the national tournament in Branson, Mo.
The Bluejays will have to win the KCAC tournament to make it to Branson.
The Spires, known for their 3-point shooting, took an early lead on 3-pointers by three different players.The home team cooled off from behind the arc after that, making only two more to finish 5-of-19 from behind the arc.
The Jays fought their way back into the contest despite a hostile Saint Mary crowd. Baskets by Ernest Nortey and Dustin Frost helped the Bluejays close the gap to 9-7. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Scott Brubacher and Nortey tied the game at 19 with 8:34 left.
Saint Mary players refused to guard Nortey beyond the arc, and the 6-4 junior, who does not shoot long-range jumpers often, buried another three to give the Bluejays a 24-20 lead with 6:30 remaining.
The Jays led by two points at halftime, 27-25.
The second half featured plenty of Bluejay fouls and a plethora of Spire free throws. Nine of the eleven players who saw action for Tabor in the game finished with three or more fouls.
Saint Mary, meanwhile, shot an incredible 37 free throws in the second half. Unfortunately for the Bluejays, they made 28 of them, and finished the game with 33 points from the charity stripe.
Every trip down the court seemed to produce another Tabor foul. With 11:30 left in the game, the Spires were already in the double bonus.
Saint Mary took advantage of the situation, outscoring the Bluejays 31-18 in that stretch, despite making only six field goals.
Head Coach Don Brubacher felt the foul situation was the result of poor officiating rather than the way Tabor was playing.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that we have to put up with this kind of nonsense in this kind of a game,” he said afterward.
Saint Mary gradually stretched their lead over the last eight minutes of the game, and never let the Bluejays closer than three points.
Nortey finished the game with a team-high 18 points and pulled down six rebounds. He was one of only two Bluejays in double figures.
Despite the loss, Brubacher was pleased with his team’s performance.
“They played hard on both ends of the court and they deserved a much better outcome than we got,” he said.
Because of the loss, Tabor will not be guaranteed home-court advantage through the KCAC tournament. If the Spires and Bluejays make it to the finals next Monday, the game will be played again in Leavenworth.
Tabor 56, Bethel 52
Sometimes just surviving is enough. Tabor held off a late Bethel rally to post a 56-52 win Thursday night in Hillsboro and set up Saturday’s KCAC championship showdown with co-leader Saint Mary College.
The Bluejays and Threshers each struggled offensively in the first half, but Tabor managed a 26-19 lead at intermission on the strength of Kevin Koehn’s 12 points, including three 3-pointers.
The Jays twice pushed the lead to 15 points in the early minutes of the second half, the second time on a dunk by Micah Ratzlaff with 13:23 to play to make the score 39-24.
The Jays still led by 14 with six minutes to go when Bethel guards Garry Albright and Tyler Hoopes led a final charge.
With Tabor leading 54-48 and 1:07 to play, Hoopes stuck back his own missed shot to cut the lead to four. He then stole the ball after the inbounds pass, was fouled by Dustin Frost and sank both ends of a one-and-one to pull Bethel to within two.
After Frost was called for traveling in the backcourt with 22.3 seconds left, Hoopes took a fadeaway 12-footer that would have tied the game with seven seconds to go. The shot fell short, Tyson Ratzlaff grabbed the ball and Tabor called time out with 6.5 seconds left.
Koehn was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass and made both free throws to seal the win.
Koehn was by far Tabor’s most effective offensive weapon, finishing with 26 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-7 from behind the arc.
“Kevin had a big game outside the 3-point line,” said coach Don Brubacher. “It was a huge lift for us the way he shot the basketball from deep.”
Take away Koehn’s performance, and the rest team registered a paltry 30 percent from the field on 11-of-36 shooting. Several misses came close to the basket.
“We were being hit inside when we were shooting inside,” Brubacher said. “That’s something that happens at times though, and you have to be a little stronger and a little tougher. You can’t use that as an excuse for not getting the ball into the basket when you’re a college player and shooting three-foot shots and less.”
Tabor didn’t help itself much at the free-throw line either, hitting only 11 of 21 attempts.
Brubacher was disappointed in his team’s inconsistent play, but also credited the Threshers for their gutsy persistence.
“Bethel’s a tenacious group,” he said. “Any time we gave them even the smallest crack, I thought they did a really good job of taking advantage of it.”