ORIGINALLY WRITTEN MATT INSLEY
Tabor’s dream of a national title came to an abrupt end Friday morning in Branson, Mo., when they were beaten by Northwestern College of Iowa, 71-63, in the second round of the NAIA Division II men’s tournament.
The Jays led 40-30 at halftime and seemed to be on their way to victory. But they could not overcome poor second-half shooting and a solid performance by the Red Raiders, who were ranked eighth in the final regular-season NAIA poll and seeded seventh in the tournament.
The game immediately took a twist toward Tabor when Northwestern’s top scorer and big man Brandon Jacobson was whistled for two quick fouls in the first minute of the game. He would sit out the rest of the first half.
Tabor took advantage of the void in the middle, going to the lane for several driving layups. Micah Ratzlaff had a strong performance, scoring 16 first-half points. He finished with 21.
The game was close for most of the first half, even though Tabor shot 60 percent from the field in the first half, including 5-of-9 from 3-point range. Northwestern struggled from beyond the arc over the same span, making only two of 12 attempts.
The Bluejays finally broke the game open with a 7-0 run over the last 2:22 of the first half, culminating in a 3-pointer by Scott Brubacher and two Micah Ratzlaff free throws. They led by 10 points at the break, their biggest lead of the game.
If the first half was a demonstration of how good the Bluejays could be on offense, then the second half was the exact opposite. The Jays managed just six field goals on 24 percent shooting, with only one 3-pointer.
“I don’t know if we had a minute of the second half where we executed offense well,” coach Don Brubacher said.
Jacobson returned for the Red Raiders in the second half and made his presence known on the offensive and defensive sides of the floor. He finished with six points and nine rebounds in only 16 minutes of play.
The Bluejays became limited offensively in the second half, relying heavily on one-on-one moves to the basket. The team had only two assists in the second half.
“Poor execution of offense results in poor shots, that results in poor shooting percentage, and that results in a loss,” Brubacher said.
“We were down to somebody catches it and tries to make a play with the ball in their hands. Unfortunately, they guarded well enough and that didn’t work.”
The offensive woes started immediately for Tabor in the second half, as they went the first three minutes without scoring.
Tabor’s only points came three free throws until Lance Redetzke finally sunk a field goal with 12:40 remaining.
Scott Brubacher’s free throw with 9:51 left briefly tied the game at 49, but Northwestern went on a 14-4 run over the next four minutes that put them up by 10 with only six minutes left to play.
The Bluejays trailed by seven with 1:20 to go when junior Jimmy Janzen converted an old-fashioned three-point play.
The Jays had a chance to cut into the lead when Northwestern missed a 3-point attempt with 49 seconds left, but Jacobson rebounded and made the put-back to seal the game for the Red Raiders.
Northwestern out-rebounded Tabor by 17 boards.
“(Jacobson) came up with some huge rebounds, none bigger than the one with less than a minute to play on a missed shot that we needed to grab,” Brubacher said. “He really hurt us.”
Ratzlaff was the only Bluejay in double figures, finishing with 21 points. He also had three assists and three steals. Senior Dustin Frost scored nine points in his last collegiate game.
Despite the bitter loss, Brubacher was proud of what his team was able to accomplish throughout the season.
“I believe we have learned quite a bit about the way to play the game and what it takes to be successful,” he said. “Right now we’re a much, much better basketball team than we were at the beginning of the season.”
Tabor 79, Milligan 76
Tabor extended an impressive streak during Wednesday’s first-round upset of No. 10 seeded Milligan College from Tennessee.
The Bluejays have never lost a first-round game at the national tournament, raising their record to 4-0 with an impressive 79-76 victory over the Buffaloes.
The Bluejays looked strong coming out of the gate and built 24-7 lead over the first seven minutes. Feeding off a loud and rambunctious Tabor cheering section, the Jays were unconscious from the field, shooting 9-of-13 during that stretch, including 6-of-9 from beyond the arc.
Kevin Koehn, Eric Driggers, and Scott Brubacher each nailed a pair of 3-pointers. Koehn, a senior, scored 25 points in his first national tournament appearance. He said he and his teammates took the shots the Milligan defense gave them.
“They were giving us the open look early,” he said. “If it’s within the offense and we’re open, coach tells us to shoot it.”
Koehn also pulled down four rebounds and dished out four assists.
“We felt good about the game for the most part,” Koehn said. “But there were some times where we let down. We’re just happy to get the win.”
Tabor did let down several times during the contest. Their early 17-point lead dwindled to four by intermission. Head coach Don Brubacher said the letdown was a result of poor play on the offensive end.
“We became complacent because we shot the ball so well early, and the kids forget how hard they worked to get those open looks,” he said.
Several other factors contributed to Milligan’s surge at the end of the half. They Jays were assessed 11 fouls, committed 15 turnovers and did not shoot a single free throw.
In the second half, the Jays methodically pulled away from the Milligan squad. With 14:28 left to play, senior Eric Driggers hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game to again push Tabor’s lead to double digits.
The Jays maintained defensive pressure on the Buffaloes, and with four minutes left, found themselves ahead by 16 points.
Then things turned a little scary for Brubacher’s squad.
“We had done very well to build the margin, and then turned the ball over several times in a row to let them back into it,” Brubacher said. “It just happened all at once.”
Milligan converted three Bluejay turnovers into a 7-0 run. Tabor also helped its opponents by shooting 5-of-11 from the free-throw line during the last four minutes.
With 13 seconds left in the game, Milligan guard Gabe Goulds hit a short jumper that cut the lead to four.
After Driggers hit one of two free throws, Goulds nailed a 3-pointer that cut the lead to two with only six seconds remaining.
Koehn was fouled and made one of two free throws. Milligan was unable to convert a shot as time expired.
The Bluejays won without their team leader, Micah Ratzlaff, who sat out most of the game due to foul trouble. He finished with eight points in only 19 minutes of play.
Eric Driggers finished with 15 points and five assists, including 4-of-6 shooting from behind the 3-point line. Scott Brubacher finished with 10 points and Tyson Ratzlaff had eight.