Bluejay men maintain perch on top of KCAC

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor College men continued their campaign for a conference title with a convincing win win over Bethel on Saturday after roughing up Bethany on Thursday.

The Bluejays disposed of Bethel on an icy Saturday night, 76-61, but looked like they were slipping on the court as they struggled to come out of the starting gates, falling behind the Threshers 8-0 to begin the game.

It wasn’t until the 15:57 mark that Jared Reese finally broke the scoring drought for Tabor with a pair of free throws. Reese also hit the first Bluejay field goal at the 14:57 mark.

Tabor crawled back into the contest, due in large part to the strong inside play of several Bluejays. Key to Tabor’s 22-12 first-half rebounding advantage were Jeremiah Randall, Brad Gattis and Colby Bettles.

The three combined for nine rebounds and 18 first-half points.

“We rebounded well in the first half,” coach Don Brubacher acknowledged.

But the Bluejays didn’t catch the Threshers until Anthony Monson scored off an assist from Cody Schafer at the 3:21 mark to tie the game at 28.

Schafer’s 3-point basket on the next possession put Tabor in front for the first time, 31-28.

Leading the first-half charge was Tabor senior Tyson Ratzlaff, who didn’t score any points but dished out four assists on his way to a game-high eight assists.

“Tyson had a big game because of ball handling, play making and defense,” Brubacher said. “He was at the center of just about everything we did, but he didn’t have too many opportunities to score.

“That’s usually a really bad sign for us because it means we’re not executing offense,” he added. “Tyson is smart enough, executes the offense well enough, and he cuts and his teammates pick for him that he’ll usually find offensive opportunities.”

Tabor increased its lead to 38-31 by the halftime horn, but Bluejays came out sluggish in the second half.

The Threshers carved into the Bluejay lead for the first 10 minutes of the half, trailing just 50-47 with 10:54 to play.

Leading Bethel’s charge was 6-feet-0-inch junior Jayson Artaz, who scored 16 second-half points on his way to a game-high 24 .

“Artaz has turned into a really good shooter,” Brubacher said. “You have to be on him hard and at times we were, but when we gave him a crack he made us pay for it.”

Just when Bethel fans were envisioning an upset, Tabor did what it had to preserve its lead, transforming a slim 50-47 lead into a 60-50 lead with just over five minutes left in the game.

Once again it was Ratzlaff’s passing that keyed the surge.

“Tyson has great vision and anticipation,” Brubacher said. “He sees the play happening as it develops instead of seeing a teammate break open and then being surprised.”

The Bluejays, fueled by their defense, played their best basketball of the game in the final seven minutes.

Leading the charge was freshman Andy Brubacher, who stepped on for a foul-plagued Schafer. Brubacher registered five steals, two that led to uncontested lay-
ups.

“He had to play a lot more minutes in the second half than he’s used to,” Brubacher said. “Sometimes players don’t respond very well, but he responded very well.”

Brubacher said the end of the game produced the results he as a coach strives for.

“We really muddled through a significant portion of this game, but then it’s as if we remembered how to play and things went considerably better for us during that time,” he said.

Leading the way offensively for Tabor was Anthony Monson, who registered 11 points. Randall threw in 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Bettles also chipped in 10 points.

Artaz’s 24 was tops for Bethel while Ryan Lohfink had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Tabor hit over 50 percent of its field-goal attempts for the third straight game, making 28 of 53 attempts (53 percent). Bethel shot just 36 percent.

With the win, Tabor maintained its perch atop the KCAC with a 10-2 conference mark while improving to 10-12 overall.

Bethany-Tabor’s development into a viable basketball commodity took another spin in the right direction Thursday as Tabor defeated Bethany, 82-67.

“We really did have stretches we played very well on both ends of the court,” Brubacher said. “We played intelligently and we executed our game well.”

Early on, the Bluejays punished Bethany down low for numerous baskets in the paint, thanks to the strong efforts of big men Anthony Monson and Jeremiah Randall.

The two combined for 11 of Tabor’s first 14 points as the Bluejays sprinted to a 14-6 lead with 14:56 to play in the half.

The Bluejays relied on nifty interior passing to befuddle the Swede defense.

“They do a nice job of pressuring the post,” Brubacher said. “Nevertheless, we did show times that we are capable of making the plays against that.”

The Bluejays stretched their lead to 22-10 with 12:55 to play before things began to turn around.

Whether Bethany turned up the defensive heat or the Bluejays became impatient, the result was a 14-2 run by the Swedes that put them on top, 26-24, with 8:09 left in the half.

“We lost our focus and we began to rush our shots,” Brubacher explained. “We forgot it really is beneficial to execute some of the basics of our offensive system. When we did execute, it worked really very well against Bethany’s defense.”

The remainder of the half was spent with Tabor attempting to reestablish its lead. To a degree they were successful, building as much as an eight-point lead at 39-31 before settling for a 46-41 halftime advantage.

“I was surprised at how effective we were when we executed our game well,” Brubacher said. “I didn’t expect this to be easy-I thought it would be a struggle.”

In the second half, the Bluejays increased the margin to nine on the strength of back-to-back buckets by Brad Gattis to make the score 54-45 with 17:24 to play.

But the Bluejays hit another dead spot and allowed the Swedes to creep back into the contest. Bethany reeled off six straight points to cut the margin to 54-51 with 15:20 to play.

“We started taking quick shots again,” Brubacher said about his team’s sudden demise. “When we’re in transition, that’s good basketball for us.

“We got good-high percentage shots when we executed,” he said. “But it’s the old mentality if we get a great shot after four passes, lets see if we can get a mediocre shot off of three passes. If that goes in, lets take a poor shot off of two passes and see if we can get that one to go in.”

With the lead cut to just three points, Tabor focused on reestablishing itself in the paint. Monson, Randall, Gattis and Colby Bettles rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

“We had some stretches rebounding when we had some of our guys spectating early on,” Brubacher said. “But Jeremiah was really tough and aggressive the whole game.

“He had good position the entire game,” he added. “I thought he went to the ball off the boards more aggressively than I’ve ever seen him go get it.”

Also in the mix was Bettles.

“He got some really tough rebounds in traffic and he had to battle for them and he got them,” Brubacher said.

Taking higher-percentage shots proved beneficial for the Bluejays as they took the heart out of Bethany over the next 4:40 with a 14-0 run to increase their lead to 68-51 with just 3:15 to play.

“We were able to contain them down in the low post and we contained their board play when we were focused,” Brubacher said. “If we hadn’t done that, we probably would have lost the basketball game.”

The Swedes made a modest last-gasp effort, cutting the lead to nine. But Tabor rebuilt its lead to 17 point and cruised to the win.

“It’s another one of those games we showed how good we really can be, but we also showed how bad we can be,” Brubacher said.

Leading the way for the Bluejays was Gattis with 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds.

Also scoring in double figures were Tyson Ratzlaff with 13, Bettles with 11, and both Randall and Monson adding 10 points.

Greg Whitaker led three Swedes in double figures with 15 points.

“Bethany is a lot better team than they were the first time we played them,” he said. “They’re playing everyone close-they’re just struggling for wins.”

For the game, the Bluejays hit on 51 percent of their field goal tries (29-57) while Bethany connected on 40 percent (22-55).

Tabor hit six of 12 3-point attempts while Bethany canned four of 14 (29 percent).

“I’m pleased with the positive play, the really good play at times,” Brubacher said. “But we have to try to stay focused so we get closer to 40 minutes of that.”

Coming-This week, Tabor travels to Sterling on Thursday and McPherson on Saturday. The two teams sit at third and fourth in the KCAC, respectively.

“This is really a tough week coming up,” Brubacher said. “That’s another reason I’m concerned about how we played against Bethel. If we play like that at Sterling or McPherson, it’s going to be a really unpleasant outcome.”

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