ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
In the end, Tabor ruled over lowly Saint Mary, 83-57. But domination came only gradually for the Bluejays Saturday night.
The Spires, with a KCAC record of 2-13, came into Hillsboro fresh off their biggest win of the season, 97-94, over conference-leading Bethany at Lindsborg.
So when the visitors jumped to a 9-0 lead in the first two minutes of the game, coach Don Brubacher called a quick timeout.
“We obviously weren’t ready to play,” Brubacher said. “The start had me very, very concerned. We were terribly flat when we walked out on the basketball court.
“The timeout was just to remind them of the things we need to do to play good basketball.”
And Tabor remembered quite nicely.
Micah Ratzlaff, the Bluejays’ All-American, led the way with 12 first-half points.
“We run an equal opportunity offense,” Brubacher said about Ratzlaff’s dominance. “When you have better skills, you have more opportunities. We got him the ball in better position, with more space to play in than we often do.”
With that boost, Tabor righted the ship and sailed to a 38-27 halftime advantage.
In the second half, Saint Mary scored the first five points to cut the Bluejay lead to six, 38-32, but the Spires would never get any closer. Once more Tabor reasserted itself with a 13-6 run over the next three and a half minutes.
Instrumental in the surge was the inside muscle of Derek Karber, Colby Bettles and Chris Myers.
Brubacher’s recent experiment of adding the more size to the lineup continues to pay dividends as the trio’ combined for 18 points and 13 rebounds.
“I’m really pleased with their efforts,” Brubacher said. “Their attitude has been really good. They’re eager to play, and they’re eager to help the team. They’re making a real positive difference since we’ve given them the chance to play.”
Tabor took care of business and expanded its lead as the second half continued. In fact, Tabor’s 26-point victory margin also was the team’s largest lead of the night.
The Bluejays shot 34-of-67 from the field for 50.7 percent while limiting the Spires to just 36 percent.
Ratzlaff led the way for Tabor with 26 points, while freshman Brad Gattis contributed 18 points, including 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.
Tabor dominated the rebounding battle, 45-30, with Ratzlaff and Karber leading the way with six apiece.
Ratzlaff, along with brother Tyson, added six assists.
Tabor improved its record to 15-10 overall and 10-6 in the KCAC.
Saint Mary, failing in their bid for a second consecutive upset, fell to 4-21 and 2-14 conference.
Tabor 88, Southwestern 82
Like a great chef tweaking a recipe to find just the right combination of ingredients, Tabor coach Don Brubacher tasted sweet success Thursday as his team defeated Southwestern, 88-82, in a shootout in Winfield.
Brubachers recipe “centered” on the insertion of Derek Karber and his supporting cast of Chris Myers and Colby Bettles, who gave Tabor the size it needed to bolster its rebounding this season.
Although this latest recipe turned out well in the end, Tabor began the game looking like it might be the one to get smoked.
Despite 10 points from the Ratzlaff brothers, Micah and Tyson, Tabor trailed the Moundbuilders, 18-15 at the 11:39 mark of the half.
Enter Colby Bettles, Brubacher’s next ingredient. The 6-feet-6-inch freshman from Herington scored eight first-half points on 4-for-4 shooting.
But Southwestern wasn’t ready to turn in its apron just yet. Building a 28-21 lead with 7:49 left in the half, the Builders seemed poised to bake the Jays.
But Tabor came back with a 14-4 surge to take a 35-32 lead at intermission.
A huge factor in the first half was the Bluejays’ work on the glass. Tabor out-rebounded the Builders 25-13, including eight offensive rebounds.
“I told the players that without that effort on the boards, we wouldn’t have a chance,” Brubacher said.
When Kalan Powers scored two of his 19 points with 18:04 to play, Southwestern tied the game for the fifth time, 39-39.
Over the next eight minutes, the teams exchanged the lead numerous times.
It wasn’t until Tyson Ratzlaff’s 8-footer with 10:50 to play put Tabor on top, 57-56, that the 10th lead change of the night would prove to be the last.
On the strength of a 16-4 run over the next four minutes, Tabor built a 73-60 lead with 6:44 to play.
All the Bluejays had to do to take home a huge conference road victory was control the ball and be smart.
But wait. These are the 2002-03 lead-losing Bluejays we’re talking about.
When Southwestern’s James Titus heated up with 26 second-half points, Brubacher’s recipe started to sour. In fact, thanks largely to Titus, Southwestern chopped the Tabor lead to a single point, 80-79, with 1:40 to play.
“It was looking like it was going to go the way a bunch of others have gone for us this year,” Brubacher said. “We did a better job offensively, but Southwestern hit some amazingly difficult shots down the stretch.”
But this time the Bluejays withstood the heat in the kitchen.
Showing unusual poise, the Bluejays nailed free throw after free throw to stave off Southwestern’s rally. Tabor connected on 19-of-21 free throws in the second half, and 23-26, or 88.5 percent, for the game.
That kind of shooting, coupled with a 42-29 rebounding advantage, carried the Jays to the win.
“It’s unusual, but it’s what we expected this year,” Brubacher said of his team’s performance from the line. “We stepped up and made free throws down the stretch. That was our offense.”
Micah Ratzlaff led the free-throw barrage by hitting 10 of 11, and finished the game with 24 points. Brother Tyson hit six of seven and had 17 points.
Also in double figures for Tabor were Brad Gattis with 12 and Scott Brubacher with 11.
Titus finished with 28 points for Southwestern.
Tabor shot 49.2 percent from the floor, including seven of 22 from behind the 3-point line. Southwestern shot just under 43 percent.
With the win, Tabor overtook Southwestern in the KCAC standings with a 9-6 record, thus improving the Jays’ chance for a game or two at home during the conference tournament.