Bluejays men bounce back with win over Spires

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
It took just one game, divided into two halves, for the Tabor Bluejays to show both the rewards and hazards of coaching college basketball.

The Bluejays played possibly their best half of basketball of the season on the way to a 45-18 halftime lead. Fortunately, even a miserable second half didn’t keep the Bluejays from hanging on for a 72-45 win over the University of Saint Mary.

“What the two halves show for us is the on-and-off nature of our team,” Coach Don Brubacher said. “We either play reasonably well or we play pretty badly-we really don’t have a middle ground.”

Tabor raced to a 10-0 lead before the game was three minutes old. At the center of the surge was Jared Reese, who hit three of four 3-point attempts on the way to 14 first-half points.

“We made good decisions, we rebounded well and we took care of the basketball,” Brubacher said. “Typically, when we pass the ball, we shoot well.”

Evidence of the Bluejays’ unselfishness in the first half was their 13 assists while the defense forced 19 Spire turnovers that resulted in 23 Tabor points.

“Overall, it was probably the most effective we’ve been this year when we tried to apply substantial pressure,” Brubacher said. “I was pleased with that, but there is certainly room for improvement.”

Tabor’s defense held Saint Mary to 11 first-half field goal attempts, of which it hit only three.

Tabor cruised to a 45-18 half-time advantage, but the Bluejays were showing signs that the shine was coming off their game.

“We got lazy in the last 10 minutes of the half and had breakdowns because we built a lead and felt like we didn’t need to continue to be aggressive,” Brubacher said.

While the game was never in doubt in the second half, the Bluejays certainly struggled.

“We went from being good to being bad because we simply quit playing the way we need to play,” Brubacher said. “I guess it’s just something we’re going to have to accept about this team.”

Tabor’s largest lead was 33 points, but that dwindled to 20 with just over five minutes remaining.

“It shouldn’t be hard to focus even with a 30-point lead,” Brubacher said. “If you want to compete well game in and game out, you’re going to compete when you’re on the court no matter what the score is.”

The Bluejays did manage to finish the game on a stronger note, scoring 13 of their 27 second-half points in the final seven minutes.

Tabor, after hitting 60 percent of its field goals in the first half cooled to 36 percent in the second half to finish at 48 percent.

The Bluejays had one of their best nights from beyond the 3-point arc, hitting nine of 21 attempts.

Saint Mary connected on 38.7 percent of its field goal tries.

Leading Tabor’s balanced scoring attack was Reese with 16 points while Jeremiah Randall had 11 and Tyson Ratzlaff and Anthony Monson both added 10.

James Jones led the Spires with 14 points.

With the win, the Bluejays halted a two-game conference losing skid and improved to 6-2 in KCAC play and 6-12 overall.

Saint Mary fell to 1-7 in conference play and 3-12 overall.

Southwestern-They don’t wear hard hats or carry shovels, but the Tabor men’s basketball team might be mistaken for ditch diggers if they keep digging holes for themselves like they did Thursday night.

The Bluejays found themselves in a 16-point hole in the first half against Southwestern, and never did dig themselves out of it en route to a 71-66 loss to the Moundbuilders.

“I strongly suspect that outside of about 10 minutes of basketball, we won by 20-plus points, but in those 10 minutes, some in each half, we lost by 25,” coach Don Brubacher said afterward.

After Tyson Ratzlaff and Jeremiah Randall hit consecutive baskets to put Tabor on top 4-0, the Moundbuilders reeled off 10 straight points to grab a 10-4 lead.

By the time Southwestern slowed down, they had an additional 19-9 run and led 29-13 with 6:32 to play in the half.

“I don’t know if they missed an open look during that stretch,” a disheartened Brubacher said.

But Tabor battled back, and pulled to within eight points, 36-2, by halftime.

Keying the late first-half surge was junior college transfer Anthony Monson, who scored 11 points.

“Anthony played very well for us in stretches,” Brubacher said. “But we were lucky to be within eight at the half because we didn’t take away their open looks. They just started missing them.”

In contrast to previous games, the Bluejays stayed within striking distance of Southwestern by hitting 11 of 15 first-half free-throw attempts while the Moundbuilders canned five of six.

Tabor took it to Southwestern in the opening minutes of the second half as Monson tossed in five more points. Randall added a basket and Southwestern’s lead was cut to 36-35.

“We changed our defense to a defense that really is not our best defense, but one that makes it less likely that we’ll make huge mistakes,” Brubacher said of the quick start. “They also missed some open shots they were making early in the game when they made their run to get up 16 points.”

Over the next six minutes, the Bluejays tied the score three times, the final one being 49-49 with 11:09 to left in the game.

But over the course of the next 1:23, Tabor turned the ball over on consecutive possessions and Southwestern cashed in for a 56-49 lead.

“We crawled back into the game and then gave up another run,” he said. “But that is the story of our game. In almost every case, we’re losing it because we turned the ball over and got careless.”

A major pain in the side of Tabor all evening was 6-foot 5-inch All-KCAC forward Kalan Powers, who burned the Bluejays for 26 points. But Powers may have had help in the form of the men in stripes.

“Powers is a good athlete, but he’s not such a good athlete that you can’t guard him,” Brubacher said. “But they were moving on their picks until they hit us. There was really no limit on how much they could move.”

Still, Tabor was able to crawl back into contention, thanks to their 61.5 percent field-goal accuracy in the second half.

Down 63-56 with 5:38 remaining, Tabor got a 3-pointer from Andy Brubacher and aggressive offensive play from Ratzlaff and pulled to within a point, 67-66, with only 1:04 left in the game.

When Southwestern missed its shot and Tabor grabbed the rebound, Brubacher called a timeout and set up a play for Ratzlaff to go one-on-one against his overmatched defender.

Ratzlaff juked one way and whirled the other way, only to collide with his defender. But no whistle sounded and the ball rolled into the hands of Southwestern’s Brian Holthus, who was fouled and converted both free throws.

Now trailing by three, Tabor had one last chance, but it fell short and allowed Southwestern to score two more meaningless points as time expired.

Thanks to their hot hand in the second half, the Bluejays finished the night hitting 52.2 percent compared to 49.1 percent by Southwestern.

“We did a little better job offensively, but not much,” Brubacher said. “We played good offense in short stretches.”

Leading the way for Tabor was Monson who scored 18 points, followed by Ratzlaff with 12 and Gattis with 10.

Southwestern made 10 of 13 three free throws while Tabor went to the foul stripe just three times in a physical second half.

Southwestern also won the battle of the boards, 32-23, included 10 offensive rebounds resulting in 11 second-chance points.

Coming-Tabor travels to Wichita Thursday night to battle with conference leading Friends University.

“This (Saint Mary) game should be a revitalizing game for us going into Friends,” Brubacher said. “But who knows? It should give us confidence for our two road games. Whether or not it will, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

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