ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
The Tabor men’s basketball team came out with guns blazing in the early minutes of Saturday’s semifinal KCAC tournament contest with Kansas Wesleyan, but couldn’t fight off the Coyotes’ barrage in the waning minutes of the game.
Tabor lost, 62-54, to even their record at 15-15 and put their season in jeopardy.
Even with the loss, the Bluejays can still receive an automatic berth in the NAIA Division II national tournament if Ottawa defeated Kansas Wesleyan in Tuesday’s KCAC tournament championship.
The KCAC can qualify two teams. Because Ottawa won the regular-season conference championship, and if it would win the tournament title, Tabor’s conference record would give them the edge over KWU.
The Bluejays had a chance to remove all doubt about nationals Saturday night, but came up short.
“We played hard tonight and reasonably smart,” coach Don Brubacher said. “We failed to negate their strengths. We simply didn’t make the play.”
Tabor senior Jimmy Janzen electrified the crowd less than a minute into the game with a field goal off an assist from Tyson Ratzlaff. Ratzlaff added two 3-pointers to give the Bluejays a 10-4 advantage.
But the Coyotes battled back and eventually cut the margin to one point with 5:06 remaining in the first half. Kansas Wesleyan’s Matt Crist hit a shot in the lane to give the Coyotes their first lead, 21-20.
Tabor’s Dane Little found Jeremiah Randall on a back-door cut for a layup to recapture the lead. Ernest Nortey’s basket, with 31 seconds left in the half, gave the Jays a 24-21 lead. But Coyote Larry Brooks hit a leaner under the basket to cut Tabor’s lead to one at intermission.
Kansas Wesleyan drew first blood in the second half when Brad Emme hit a shot close to the basket to regain the lead for KWU. But Janzen hit back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the Tabor lead to three.
Emme answered with back-to-back mid-range jumpers off the glass to put his team back in front.
The Jays and Coyotes continued to swap baskets midway through the second half, but Kansas Wesleyan never relinquished the lead the rest of the game despite several Tabor late-game runs.
Emme finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. The Coyote low-post scored all 10 points in the second half.
Jeremy Grady led the Coyotes’ scoring with 16 points and pulled down eight rebounds.
“Our pressure wasn’t consistent enough,” Brubacher said. “We proved we were able to force more with pressure defensively. It needed to be a bigger factor, but it wasn’t.
“The (rebounds) really hurt us all evening long. We weren’t pleased with our performance.”
Janzen was 7-for-13 from the field and finished with 16 points for Tabor. He added five rebounds, two steals and one assist.
Nortey finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, one steal and one assist.
Bethany-The Tabor men got it done down the stretch Thursday night to slip past Bethany College, 59-56, to advance to the semifinals of the KCAC tournament.
The Bluejays were down 54-52 when Scott Brubacher nailed a 3-pointer to give Tabor a one-point advantage.
From that point, the Bluejays hit their free throws and earned a second-round appearance.
Tyson Ratzlaff and Ernest Nortey had 16 and 14 points, respectively, to lead Tabor. Brubacher added 12 points.