ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
“This was a scary game,” Tabor coach Don Brubacher said after his team beat Kansas Wesleyan, 81-67, Saturday in Salina.
The Coyotes, winners of seven of their last eight, have talent and had the advantage of playing the contest at home.
But the Bluejays have been on a roll of their own, and that momentum carried them to the 14-point win.
But it wasn’t easy.
Tabor flexed its muscle early in the contest as post-player Derek Karber scored the first four points for the Bluejays.
Micah Ratzlaff then hit consecutive 3-pointers within a mere 20 seconds to give the Jays a 10-6 lead.
When Ratzlaff added a layup with 15:58 left in the half, Ratzlaff and Karber had combined for the first 14 points for Tabor, and staked the team to a 14-6 lead.
Tabor expanded the lead to 13, at 24-11, with 13:47 remaining in the half.
But KCAC leading scorer Tim Melton (19.5 ppg) answered the Coyote call, and helped trim the lead back to six, 27-21.
But like a buzzard rising and falling on the the wind currents, so went the Bluejay lead. Tabor stretched it to 13 with 6:59 to play in the half, then held on to take a 41-32 lead by halftime.
Early in the second half, Tabor pushed the lead to 13 again, but over the next 3:04, Kansas Wesleyan put together a 12-3 spurt and closed the gap to 54-50.
“The man-to-man defense worked very well for us a considerable portion of the game,” Brubacher said. “But then we started having trouble down low. We just gave up a boatload of offense down low.”
With the margin thin, Tabor again turned to the duo of Karber-Ratzlaff for instant offense. Each converted a pair of free throws, sandwiched around a bucket by Jeremiah Randall, and the lead was back to 10, 60-50, with 10:42 to play.
After Matt Crist hit two of his team-high 20 points to cut the lead to eight, Ratzlaff answered with a thunderous dunk after a missed shot to propel Tabor back to a 10-point lead and, in the process, take the wind out of the Coyotes’ sail.
Tabor expanded the lead to 19 with just 2:34 to play, then coasted to their 12th conference victory in 18 starts.
Ratzlaff, last week’s KCAC Player of the Week, used a gamut of skills to lead the Bluejays with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Brad Gattis added 17 points, and Derek Karber and Scott Brubacher each scored 10.
Tabor hit 43.5 percent of its field-goal attempts, while Kansas Wesleyan hit 41 percent.
Tabor continued to excel in rebounding, winning the battle of the boards, 45-34.
The Bluejays also continued their resurgence in free-throw accuracy, hitting 19 of 24 for 79 percent. Wesleyan hit just 14 of 24.
With the win, Tabor improved its overall record to 17-10 and finished the regular season with a 12-6 mark in the KCAC-good enough for a three-way tie for second with Sterling and Bethany.
Tie-breaker rules seed the Bluejays fourth, though, and matches them against Southwestern in a home game at 7 p.m., Wednesday.
Brubacher was pleased with many aspects of the his team’s game, but tempered his enthusiasm.
“Tonight, for 30 of the 40 minutes, I was really pleased with the way we played the game,” he said. “We were extremely team oriented, we were completely unselfish, we passed the ball well, and we guarded hard and intelligently. We executed the defensive game the way we’ve practiced it.
“But those other 10 minutes could cost you the game in post-season,” he said. “Those other 10 minutes scared me.”
Tabor 77, Friends 48
Micah Ratzlaff nailed a 3-pointer just 23 seconds into the game with Friends, and the Falcons never seemed to recover Thursday.
Tabor went on to lead by as much as 30, and settled for a 29-point KCAC victory.
“I think our guys are playing harder, more regularly, and communicating better on the court,” coach Don Brubacher said afterward.
The communication extends to both ends of the court. Offensively, the Bluejays are passing the ball with unselfishness. Defensively, Tabor is working together as well as they have this season.
“We’re sharing the ball really well,” Brubacher said. “There’s not one shred of ego on our team right now.”
Tabor settled for a 38-23 half time lead.
Another bright spot for Tabor, is their new-found aggressiveness on the backboards.
“All of a sudden, it seems like we’re really a team that’s determined to get the rebound,” Brubacher said. “Brad Gattis and Jeremiah Randall have become much more dedicated to their board play.
“It really has become a much better team effort. It’s huge for us.”
Tabor took command of the boards in the second half, out-rebounding the Falcons, 24-14. The Jays held a 41-35 advantage for the game.
Leading the glass cleaning was Ratzlaff, who grabbed 11 rebounds, and Derek Karber, who corralled eight.
“Derek had a fine game tonight-he played smart,” Brubacher said.”Our rebounding has really turned around.”
Before the game was over, Brubacher played all 15 players who suited up for the game.
“We’re getting a lot of good basketball from a lot of different guys,” Brubacher said. “Our style of basketball is team oriented. When we play our best, it is team basketball.”
Tabor connected on 46.3 percent of its field goal attempts, while limiting Friends to 31.1 percent.
As pleased as Brubacher was with his team’s offensive production, he gushed at its defense.
“They’re giving themselves to the game unselfishly,” he said. “They’re taking charges, and they’re playing post defense the way I want them to play it.
“It’s not a pleasant thing-it hurts. You catch elbows in the back and in the head. You get bruised. It’s almost like coming out of a football game.”
Tabor was paced in scoring by the Ratzlaff brothers, Micah and Tyson, both with 15 points. Gattis added 12 .
Dave McMillen was the lone Falcon in double digits with 15.
Tabor also capitalized on their free throw attempts, hitting 19 of 24, for 79.2 percent.
“I think, perhaps, we’re playing our best stretch of basketball this season,” Brubacher said. “We’re doing more good things on the court right now than we have previously.
“I appreciate the effort.”