Bluejay men rise to the defense in KCAC racee

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Sooner or later, Tabor’s anemic offensive output had to come back and bite them.

On Saturday night at Winfield, the Bluejay defense allowed just 52 points, but their offense scored just 51 in a heart-breaking loss to the Moundbuilders.

At the start, Tabor jumped in front of Southwestern 6-0 at the 17:54 mark. Southwestern eventually took its first lead of the game at 15-14 at the 9:58 left on a 3-point basket by Lafayette Berry.

But the Bluejays outscored the Moundbuilders 10-4 to lead 24-19 at intermission.

Although Tabor shot just 37.5 percent in the first half, the defense was up to the task, holding Southwestern to 28.6 percent shooting.

Coach Don Brubacher said his halftime strategy discussion was simple.

“I told them we just needed to keep working hard on defense and we needed to find a way to find some offense.”

The Bluejay defense kept its part of the bargain, but the offense still sputtered, turning the ball over on its first two possessions of the half.

Still, the Bluejays led 29-28 at the 16:32 mark.

But Southwestern made its largest run of the night over the next 21/2 minutes.

Brett Annis and Kalan Powers hit 3-point baskets and Rico Marquez and Wendell Riley added 2-pointers as Southwestern jumped to a 38-29 lead with 14:03 to play.

But Tabor bounced back on the strength of a Cody Schafer hoop and seven straight points by Tyson Ratzlaff to knot the game at 38.

Unfortunately for the Bluejays, no one else had a hot hand on this night.

“Tyson scored seven straight but he was the only guy who played any offense,” Brubacher said. “There wasn’t anybody else who had any capability of producing offense for us.”

Deadlocked at 38, the remaining 11 minutes of the contest were a dead heat as neither team led by more than three points.

The Bluejays took their last lead at the 2:12 mark when Schafer drilled a short jumper for a 51-50 edge. It also proved to be the final points the Bluejays would scored that evening.

After several misses by both teams, Marquez eventually rebounded an errant Moundbuilder shot and was fouled with 54 seconds remaining.

The sophomore calmly sank the first shot to tie the game at 51, and nailed the second one to put Southwestern on top 52-51.

The final 50 seconds were an exercise in frustration as Tabor repeatedly misfired.

A pair of missed free throws, two rebounds, two missed 3-pointers and two missed shots in the lane combined to burn the remaining time off the clock as Tabor fell to the Moundbuilders for the second time this season.

“We had our chances at the end but just didn’t make any of our shots,” Brubacher said. “We kept getting chances but couldn’t hit a shot-which of course, is the story of the game for us.”

Ratzlaff scored 23 points to lead Tabor, but was the lone Bluejay in double digits.

Southwestern had three players in double figures led by Powers with 12.

While frustrated by his team’s lack of offense, Brubacher said a solid defensive effort gave the Bluejays a chance up until the final horn.

“Our offensive production was virtually identical but we didn’t get quite as many stops in the second half as we did the first,” Brubacher said.

“We guarded well in the first half, and for the most part in the second half also.”

Southwestern shot just under 40 percent for the game, although they hit 52 percent in the second half.

Tabor, meanwhile, hit just under 42 percent in the second frame while averaging a meager 39.6 percent for the game.

Southwestern hit all five of its free-throw attempts while Tabor continued to struggle, hitting only eight of 15 attempts.

Ottawa-It’s kind of like being crowned queen of an ugly contest, but a win is a win.

Tabor College misfired its way to a 59-51 win over Ottawa Thursday night despite hitting just 15 of 32 free throws.

Defense was the major factor in Tabor’s victory.

“I’m not complaining at all about our defensive effort,” coach Don Brubacher said. “We did have some breakdowns, but overall it was a very respectable effort on the defensive end.”

Initially, the game looked like another struggle similar to the one earlier this season when Ottawa beat Tabor, 75-68.

In fact, the game was still tied at 14 at the 10:16 mark, but Tabor was about to go on its first extended scoring run.

Cody Schafer hit a jumper sandwiched between a Jared Reese free throw and a pair of charity tosses by Josh Reeves.

Reeves followed with a 22-footer from the wing to push the Bluejay advantage to 22-14.

Anthony Monson finished the surge with a lay-in and the lead was suddenly at 24-14.

But Brubacher said nothing came easily on the offensive end for Tabor all night.

“It was just a really difficult game to work with,” he said. “Our 3-point shooting was absolutely abysmal. It’s one thing to miss them, it’s another to basically air ball them.”

Despite its offensive shortcomings, the Bluejay defense remained constant.

Tabor limited the Braves to under 30 percent field-goal accuracy in the first half, including one of 10 from beyond the arc.

But the Bluejays didn’t fare much better, shooting just under 43 percent and matching the Braves beyond the arc by hitting one of 10.

A common theme for the Bluejays in both halves was their inefficiency at the charity stripe. Tabor hit seven of 16 free throws in the half.

“I would say we must have been triple-teamed at the free-throw line,” Brubacher said sarcastically. “Free throws have to go in every night in order to have any measure of success.”

Still, Tabor’s lead remained constant as it built a 32-20 advantage by intermission.

In the process, the Bluejays held Ottawa’s leading scorer, P.J. Siggal, scoreless on four attempts. He entered the game averaging 13.6 points.

Looking to defuse any thoughts of a Braves comeback in the second half, Brad Gattis drained a 3-pointer from high atop the key to push the Bluejay lead to 35-20, their largest of the game.

But then the offense shut down once more.

Ottawa pieced together a 16-5 run over the next six minutes to slice the Bluejay lead to 41-36 with 12:08 remaining.

“We couldn’t generate any offense on the block at all,” Brubacher said. “We were just abysmal.”

Brubacher said the Bluejays’ old nemesis, the quick shot, didn’t rear its ugly head on this night. Tabor simply couldn’t connect on anything.

“When you can’t hit free throws and you can hit your 3-point shots, there isn’t much left,” he said. “We just didn’t have any element of our offensive game that went right.”

With the lead at a precarious five points, Tabor maintained its focus on defense to stay a step ahead of the Braves.

With Tyson Ratzlaff’s dominating performance at McPherson still fresh in their minds, the Bluejays looked to the senior to steady the ship down the stretch.

He obliged, taking control of the Bluejay offense while recording five steals on defense.

Ratzlaff and Schafer combined their ball-handling skills with adept passing abilities. For the most part, the beneficiary was Monson.

Consecutive trips down the floor produced a Schafer assist to Monson as Tabor inched the lead back to nine points, 47-39, with 6:52 to play.

Ratzlaff remained the beacon light that guided the Bluejays out of their offensive fog as he finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and five steals.

“Tyson is very competitive and does not want to lose,” Brubacher said. “I thought he played with great intensity tonight.”

Down the stretch, the Bluejays stumbled and coughed at the free throw line, though.

Fortunately, Ottawa fouled Andy Brubacher and Ratzlaff most of the time-two of the better free-throw shooters on the team. The Bluejays held the Braves at bay, never letting them get closer than seven points down the stretch.

“Credit our defense with the win,” Brubacher said. “You can’t complain about only giving up 51 points, especially when part of that was a half-court 3-point shot at the buzzer.”

Monson led the Bluejays with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field.

“Anthony had some nice finishes at the basket in the second half, but most of them came as the result of some nice dribble penetration,” Brubacher said. “Somebody got to the basket, drew the defense and dished it to Tony.”

Ratzlaff was the only other Bluejay to reach double figures with 12 points.

Ottawa was led by Kyle Zammar with 12 points while Siggal was limited to just six.

By virtue of hitting 53 percent of their shots in the second half, Tabor finished the game hitting 47 percent, compared to just 37 percent by the Braves.

“Our shooting percentage in the second half was the result of a good team function providing those opportunities,” he said. “It was good team basketball.”

Tabor dominated the backboards, 39-25, led by Ratzlaff and Randall with nine each.

With the win, the Bluejays stay on top of the KCAC with a 12-3 record while improving to 12-13 overall.

Coming-The math is simple for the Bluejays.

Holding a slim one-game lead over both Friends and Sterling, the Bluejays can lock up the KCAC championship with two wins this week, and ensure a trip to the national tournament in Missouri.

On Thursday, Tabor travels to Leavenworth to battle Saint Mary, while a home date with Friends Saturday will likely determine the conference title.

Also up on the line is home-court throughout the post-season conference tournament.

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