ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Heading into Tabor’s Saturday night matchup with McPherson, coach Don Brubacher knew the key to defeating the Bulldogs was containing Kenny Romero, who was leading the conference in scoring at just over 21 points per contest.
The Bluejays made Romero work for his points, but he still got 27 points in the contest. In the end, though, Tabor’s balance offset Romero’s performance and carried the Bluejays to a 79-68 overtime road victory.
“Romero gave us a lot of trouble tonight,” Brubacher said. “We worked hard to limit him offensively and he still hurt us a lot.”
But Brubacher took comfort in their come-from-behind victory that turned into a battle royale.
Tabor led briefly at 7-5 on a Brad Gattis jumper with 17:01 to play in the half, but McPherson recaptured the lead and held it until the Bluejays squared the score at 14-14 with 10:54 to play.
A Jared Reese 3-pointer at the 8:52 mark gave Tabor its largest lead of the half at 17-14, but it was all uphill from there.
“We played with more patience in the first half but we did struggle with their zone,” Brubacher said. “It was a little bit different than we’ve seen in awhile. It took us quite awhile to put something on the court that was effective.”
But before Brubacher and his staff solved the puzzle, McPherson capitalized and built their largest lead of the half at 25-17 at the 4:10 mark.
With McPherson still on top 27-19 with 2:56 to play, Tabor used the final three minutes to carve into the Bulldog lead and close the gap to just four points, 29-25, at halftime.
“I think we finally figured out what we needed to do against the zone, but we just didn’t always do it,” Brubacher said.
The second half began with the Bluejays battling back to a 34-34 tie with 16 minutes to go.
Tabor hung tough and trailed just 44-42 with 10:31 to play, but McPherson put together a 7-0 run over the next two minutes, keyed by a Jordan Carter 3-pointer and inflated their lead to 51-42 with 8:35 to play.
After the teams traded baskets, Tabor still faced a nine-point mountain with 7:50 to play.
But just when things began to look their darkest, the Bluejays got a ray of light from Colby Bettles and Tyson Ratzlaff. The two led an 11-0 Tabor run when Ratzlaff drained a 3-pointer and a driving layup, and Bettles chipped in a field goal and a free throw to whittle the McPherson lead to 54-53 with 4:47 to go.
“We did make some shots and we started doing a better job defensively and we got some stops,” Brubacher said of the rally. “When McPherson built its lead, I don’t know if we got a stop or not. They were really running roughshod over us.”
Making shots and turning up the defensive pressure erased the deficit, but it was one of those tactical changes Brubacher spoke of that enabled the comeback.
“We went to a smaller lineup and that did seem to help us somewhat,” he said. “We were a little more active on the offensive end and we started passing the ball more sharply after that eight-minute point in the game.
“I think we just did a better job on both ends.”
Tabor finally reached the summit when Ratzlaff capped the 11-0 run with a three-point play to put Tabor on top, 56-54.
“Tyson really carried us for awhile tonight,” Brubacher said. “Actually, I think Tyson’s been in a position to do that a lot of times, but the team really hasn’t let him.
“We don’t play with the patience to give him the opportunities he needs,” he added. “Tonight the team did give him every opportunity to play, and he did a really outstanding job with it.”
Still, McPherson reclaimed the lead at 61-60 with 43 seconds to play in the game. After a timeout, Tabor looked to Brad Gattis for a basket and he answered by drilling a 3-pointer from 20 feet out to put Tabor on top 63-61 with 20 seconds left.
But McPherson wasn’t done either. Roy McDonald was fouled on a drive to the hoop with just 4.9 seconds to play, and the junior calmly hit both free throws to tie the game 63.
Tabor made one last gasp to win the game in regulation, but another Gattis 3-point attempt fell short to send the game into overtime.
Once there, Tabor made quick work of McPherson. Thirty seconds after Tabor claimed the opening tip later, Gattis took the heart out of the Bulldogs by drilling another 3-pointer from to stake Tabor to a 66-63 lead.
Ratzlaff added a pair of free throws on Tabor’s next possession, followed by an old-fashioned 3-point play by Cody Schafer to put Tabor on top 71-63 and essentially wrap up the game.
“It’s hard to say what the difference was (in overtime),” Brubacher said. “It was really big that we got the center jump and scored from it.
“It doesn’t always carry over of course, but it’s a nice mental boost,” he added. “I think overtime often benefits the team that feels the freshest mentally when regulation time runs out.
“It looked like McPherson was a little flat and we looked energetic to begin the extra period.”
Tabor sealed the victory by hitting all nine of their free throws in the extra period on their way to a 15-for-17 performance from the charity stripe (88 percent).
Leading the way for Tabor was Ratzlaff, who scored a team-high 21 points, grabbed five rebounds, dished out four assists, blocked three shots and recorded two steals in 40 minutes of play.
Ratzlaff was joined in double figures by Anthony Monson with 16 points, Gattis 14, Schafer 13, and Reese 10.
Romero took game honors with 27 points.
After hitting just 39 percent of their first-half shots, Tabor connected on 53 percent in the second half to finish at 47 percent. McPherson shot 38 percent.
McPherson held a slim edge on the boards at 39-36, with Jeremiah Randall grabbing six for Tabor.
While all road games are tough in conference play, Brubacher seemed especially happy to see his team bounce back after playing poorly in their loss at Sterling two days earlier.
“We challenged our team to use all their energy with about eight minutes to play so we didn’t have to wait until the end to make a comeback,” he said. “Every single time we’ve played within 10 points of our opponent this season, we’ve played with great determination and energy down the stretch.”
With the win, the Bluejays maintain their slim one-game advantage in the KCAC over both Friends and Sterling with an 11-3 record. Tabor is 11-13 overall.
Sterling-In their last meeting with Sterling, Tabor combined a Warrior collapse with timely shooting as Bluejays grabbed a heart-stopping 65-63 win.
But there were no miracles in the cards Thursday as the Warriors exacted revenge with a 74-59 win at Sterling.
Coach Don Brubacher said he wasn’t surprised the Warriors won, all things considered.
“We can’t win playing like this no matter what,” he said. “It’s not going to happen. We can’t break down like this defensively and we can’t just abandon our offensive game plan.”
Early on, it looked like this would be another dogfight right to the final buzzer.
After Cody Schafer tied the game at 2-2, Sterling scored seven straight points, including a Michael Moncrief 3-point basket, to grab a 9-2 advantage.
Still, the Bluejays fought back valiantly and tied the Warriors at 20 with 7:15 to play in the opening half when Colby Bettles scored.
With the help of two more Sterling 3-pointers, the Warriors outscored the Bluejays 14-7 to take a 34-27 lead into the locker room.
The second half was a typical KCAC battle-physical play with few fouls whistled. Still the Bluejays closed the gap to 46-42 when Bettles scored again.
But just when Tabor was in position to make a serious run, the game went from good to bad.
Four consecutive 3-point baskets by Sterling took the air out of Tabor and incited the Warrior players and fans.
“Virtually every time they hit a 3-point shot, we have a player in position to guard him, but we simply didn’t do it,” Brubacher said. “We stayed soft, let them catch the ball, square up and shoot it.”
The central figure in the Warrior rally was Moncrief, who accounted for three of the four bombs in the Sterling blitz, including a shot-clock buzzer-beating 25-footer.
Moncrief finished the game with 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the field, including six of 11 shots from beyond the arc.
With Sterling’s lead up to 13 points at 58-45 with 7:26 to play, the Bluejays needed a strong dose of offense-and quickly.
But it just wasn’t to be on this night.
“We had trouble with everything offensively,” Brubacher said. “We passed the ball horrendously, our movement off the ball was almost nonexistent, and we finished horribly around the basket.
“We missed enough layups in the game to have made it a close game just with those shots,” he said. “Our offensive end was an absolute disaster for us the entire night.”
Tabor managed to cut the Warrior lead to nine points on two separate occasions. But timely free-throw shooting down the stretch kept the Bluejays at bay.
Tabor once again featured balanced scoring, although this time it wasn’t enough to win.
Jeremiah Randall hit four of five field goals including two of three from beyond the arc to lead Tabor with 11 points.
Tyson Ratzlaff, Brad Gattis and Anthony Monson all contributed 10 points in.
Remarkably the Bluejays connected on 59 percent of their field-goal attempts in the second half and concluded the night hitting over 50 percent (51) for the fourth straight game.
Sterling was nearly as efficient, making 48 percent of their attempts.
The game, however, was won from beyond the arc, where Tabor hit just five of 13 attempts while Sterling hit 10 of 25.
The Bluejays once again struggled from the charity stripe, hitting eight of 14 attempts (57 percent) while Sterling sank 10 of 12.
Tabor lost the battle on the glass as Sterling grabbed 32 rebounds (10 offensive) to Tabor’s 25. Bettles led Tabor with five.
In the end, Brubacher said his team lost because his players didn’t play like a team.
“We aren’t going to win many games when we play as individuals,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen.”
Coming-Tabor plays host to Ottawa on Thursday, then travels to Southwestern Saturday night.
“I have no idea how our team will respond,” Brubacher said “This has been a very difficult week and two very difficult and challenging games.”
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL