ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor men stretched their KCAC win streak to five games against McPherson on Thursday, then saw it end Saturday with a disappointing loss at Ottawa.
McPherson-If the Bluejays continue to defend the way they did against the McPherson Bulldogs Thursday night in their 68-56 victory, coach Don Brubacher might want to clear a spot in the trophy case for another KCAC championship trophy.
“I thought this was absolutely, positively a game the guys won with their effort and intelligence on the defensive end,” Brubacher said.
The first half wasn’t pretty, as the Bluejays hit just 40.7 percent of their shots from the field. But McPherson managed only 40 percent.
The night began slowly for the Bluejays. Their first points didn’t come until Brad Gattis connected with 17:25 to play in the half.
Over the next eight minutes, the teams traded the lead six times before Lee Gustafson hit back-to-back field goals to propel the Bulldogs to a 14-12 lead with 9:15 remaining in the half.
When Cody Rierson hit a short jumper with 7:43 to play, McPherson held its largest lead of the game 16-12.
But Gattis reeled off five straight points while Matt Nelson heated up from the outside. Nelson connected on two 3-point attempts in the half and finished with a team-high eight points.
“Matt really came up big for us in that first half,” Brubacher said. “The ones (3-pointers) he took were absolutely unguarded-they were team offensive shots.”
By the time Anthony Monson hit a driving layup with 1:11 left, the Bluejays held their largest lead of the half, 26-20. It was a lead they’d never relinquish.
Kenny Romero hit a field goal to start the second half, but the next seven minutes belonged to the Bluejays.
Tabor’s big men hustled to set up on the low blocks for great position, forcing either easy opportunities for the Bluejays or fouls on the visiting Bulldogs.
When Gattis nailed a 3-point attempt off an assist from Tyson Ratzlaff, the Bluejays held a commanding 45-29 lead with 13:02 to go.
Brubacher credit his big men with a job well done-Gattis, Jeremiah Randall, Colby Bettles and Monson.
“Our big men really asserted themselves in various sections of the game,” he added. “Yes, we did have some breakdowns, and we’ll keep working on that. But it was a lot stronger effort on the boards than we’ve seen in many of our games this year.”
Strange as it may sound, Brubacher also credited his inside players for his team’s ability to hit the long-range jumper.
“Our big men caught the ball, found an open man on the perimeter and kicked it out where our man was squared up and got a good shot,” he said.
The Bulldogs weren’t ready for their dog house just yet. With full-court pressure, they whittled the Bluejay lead to just 56-49 with 5:31 remaining.
But about the time the Bulldog rowdies in the stands got excited, Romero picked up his fifth foul and was disqualified from the game.
“Romero is a big part of their game, and they certainly missed him when he fouled out,” Brubacher said.
Bulldog heads seemed to drop slightly, giving Tabor an opportunity to rebuild its lead and cruise home with the 68-56 win.
Leading the way for Tabor was Gattis, who recorded a double-double with a team-high 20 points and 12 rebounds.
“We’ve really been leaning on Brad hard to assert himself rebounding,” Brubacher said. “He has the physical ability to be a good rebounder.”
Nelson and Bettles came off the bench for 13 and 10 points, respectively.
Tabor’s defense limited McPherson to 33.9 percent field-goal accuracy, including a miserable one of 14 from beyond the 3-point line.
“I thought we were fortunate because McPherson is capable of shooting the ball much better than they did,” Brubacher said. “But I was pleased because we did contest most of their shots.”
Tabor, meanwhile, hit 47.7 percent of its field goal attempts and and 20 of 30 charity tosses.
With the victory, Tabor improved to 5-10 overall and a spotless 5-0 record in the KCAC.
Ottawa-Perhaps it was the two-hour drive to Ottawa, or maybe the moon just wasn’t aligned right. Whatever the reason, the Tabor Bluejay men had the same problem the Tabor women had Saturday night against the Braves.
They couldn’t buy a basket.
Tabor hit only 24 percent of its first-half field-goal attempts, which ultimately doomed them to its first KCAC loss of the season, 75-68.
“We did a lot of things tonight that made it hard for us to overcome,” coach Don Brubacher said. “Tonight things went badly for us.”
Tabor led 3-2 on an early Matt Nelson 3-pointer, but it would be the last time the Bluejays would lead. During the next four minutes, the Braves were up 10-2.
Twice Tabor battled back to within two points. The second one came when Brad Gattis was fouled on a rebound and hit one of two free throw attempts to cut the margin to 20-18 with 5:02 left in the half.
But when the halftime horn sounded, Ottawa was on top, 33-27, even though the Braves weren’t shooting much better than Tabor (34.6 percent).
The Braves extended their lead to eight points in the second half before Tabor scored six straight points on baskets by Jeremiah Randall, Tyson Ratzlaff and Anthony Monson, drawing the Bluejays to within 40-38 with 11:59 to play.
But Tabor suddenly fell into an an offensive funk, missing numerous free throws, picking up offensive fouls and committing turnovers.
Numerous missed free throws, offensive fouls and turnovers turned a two-point game into a 55-41 Tabor deficit with just 6:38 left in the game.
But the Bluejays mounted another comeback, this one fueled by the strong inside play of Randall. The senior standout responded by scoring 10 second-half points as Tabor repeatedly threw over the top of the Brave defenders for high-percentage shots off the low block.
“I think we started passing the ball better and we had better spacing on the court so we were able to get the ball where we needed to with more effectiveness,” Brubacher said. “I really believe we had opportunities to do that throughout the game, but we just weren’t ready to make the play.”
Trailing just 62-57 with 3:22 to play, the Bluejays had what proved to be their final gasp for life when Gattis scraped off a high-post screen and launched a 3-pointer that would have cut the margin to just two.
Instead, the shot missed and Ottawa raced to the other end, where PJ Siggal canned a 3-pointer for the Braves to bump the margin to 65-57.
Siggal’s 3-pointer was one of four straight the Braves hit in their game-deciding run.
“They shot extremely well from the outside,” Brubacher said. “They got an advantage through play up until that time and we weren’t able to defend like we like to or want to.
“It opened up their 3-point opportunities and we didn’t have the means to overcome that.”
Ottawa hit timely free throws down the stretch to stave off any hopes for a Bluejay miracle finish.
“We gave up too much early and we weren’t able to regain that as the game went along,” Brubacher said. “But I’m pleased with the fact that in not a single game this year have we quit when we’ve had an opportunity to win.
“I am not pleased, however, with the effort we have during the regular flow of the games,” he said. “There is no reason we can’t play with the same intensity during the course of the game as we do at the end.”
Ratzlaff wound up as the Bluejays’ high scorer with 15 points. Randall added 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Jared Reese chipped in 11 points as Tabor dropped its first conference game after five wins and fell to 5-11 overall.
The Bluejays, mainly on the strength of their second-half inside game, shot 57.7 percent from the floor, which translated into 41.2 percent for the game.
The Braves, on the other hand, hit just 40 percent for the game.
Tabor was guilty of 17 turnovers to just 10 for the Braves.
Siggal led four Braves in double figures with 21 points as Ottawa improved to 3-3 in conference play and 5-11 overall.
“We’re still working awfully hard to find our game to a large extent,” Brubacher said. “We need to play with the same determination and urgency during the game as we do in the last couple minutes when we’re trying to stage a comeback.”
Coming-Southwestern comes to town Thursday followed by a Saturday visit by Saint Mary University.
“We have to regroup,” Brubacher said. “We have to execute the basic elements of the game with consistency.
“We can’t work on fine-tuning our game because we have to focus on working on the basics of our game to become consistent.”