ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The challenge seemed daunting when the seedings were announced last week.
Tabor College had drawn Albertson, Idaho, with a record of 26-6, with three of its losses coming against NCAA Division I foes.
Although the Bluejays battled throughout the contest, the end result was a convincing 77-60 victory by the Coyotes, ending Tabor’s season at 16-16.
“I think we tried to play hard physically, but on this level you can’t just go hard physically without that effort being well directed,” coach Don Brubacher said. “I wasn’t pleased at all with how our effort was directed throughout most of the game.”
Just 27 seconds into the contest, Albertson took a 2-0 lead on a field goal by Justin McCarthy, but Tabor quickly tied the score at the 19:08 mark.
It proved to be the only time Tabor didn’t trail all game.
Albertson scored 15 of the next 17 points scored and posted a 17-4 lead with 14:33 left in the opening half.
Brubacher said Tabor had planned to attack Albertson with strong defensive pressure, but it was evident in the early going the strategy wouldn’t work.
“We had hoped to generate some offense of our own off our defensive pressure,” he said. “But we weren’t able to maintain our defensive pressure and when that went away, so did seemingly any offensive play for us.”
Tabor whittled into Albertson’s lead when Tyson Ratzlaff hit a 3-point basket and Andy Brubacher scored off a steal to make the score 17-9 at the 12:45 mark.
The Bluejays kept the Coyotes in their sights the next four minutes. When Matt Nelson’s 3-pointer bounced in with 8:50 to play in the half, Tabor was within eight points at 25-17.
But the tournament’s third-seeded team began pounding the ball inside to 6-foot-7 senior Tom Perkes, who converted four consecutive free throws and a short jumper to help the Coyotes build a 33-17 lead with 5:20remaining in the half.
“They’re very strong down low and we made some mistakes guarding them there,” Brubacher said. “They made us pay for that.”
Anthony Monson broke the run with a lay-in with 4:53 left, but back-to-back 3-point bombs by Harper and E.J. Costello pushed the lead to 39-19 over the next two minutes.
“They were very good shooters and you have to respond intelligently to that,” Brubacher said. “The difficulty is you can guard shooters very well for 25 or 30 seconds and then someone breaks down on defense with five seconds left on the shot clock.
“We broke down regularly and they punished us-they can shoot the ball well with open looks.”
When halftime rolled around, Tabor was on the wrong end of a 43-21 score.
“If we’d have defended better, we could have cut about 10 off of their total in that first half,” Brubacher said. “Most of the shots they hit, we had a defender in position to guard the shot.
“We could have taken away the shot if we’d have made the effort to close a relatively small gap between ourselves and the shooter, but our players chose to stay back and Albertson punished us for that.”
In the first half, Albertson connected on five of seven 3-point attempts and 14 of 14 free throws.
Brubacher said he talked to his team during the break about playing better defense.
“We hoped to guard them better in the second half,” he said. “We just had a hard time maintaining a defensive presence with all five of our guys at the same time on the court.”
The Bluejays battled the Coyotes fairily evenly in the second half, as Tabor’s defensive pressure forced Albertson to cool off to just 2-of-13 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Tabor briefly cut the lead to 19 points while Albertson’s largest lead was 71-41 at the 5:14 mark.
Forced to bomb from long range, the Bluejays connected on six of 16 3-point attempts in the second half, but their late comeback fell far short.
Brubacher said his team’s defensive effort-or lack thereof-was the key to defeat.
“We hoped to get out so their shooters couldn’t shoot it in rhythm, but we didn’t accomplish that,” he said.
Monson led Tabor with 11 points followed by Brad Gattis with nine.
Albertson had four players in double figures, led by Perkes with 19.
Tabor connected on 43.4 percent of its field goal attempts including eight of 23 (35 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.
Albertson hit 45 percent of its field-goal attempts, including seven of 20 (35 percent) from 3-point range.
The Bluejays hit just six of 11 charity tosses compared to 24 of 29 for the Coyotes.
Albertson won the rebounding battle 36-27. Ratzlaff led the Bluejays with six boards.
With the loss, three Tabor seniors ended their college careers: Jeremiah Randall, Cody Schafer and Tyson Ratzlaff.
“I told the team we’d have never been here without the leadership our seniors showed this season,” Brubacher said. “Jeremiah was a good example with his low-post play on both ends of the court and Tyson and Cody both with their leadership.
“Tyson produced the offense we had to have throughout a number of games in order for us to compete.”
After beginning the season 0-7 and going 0-10 in non-conference games, Tabor concluded its season with 16 wins and 16 losses, including a KCAC regular-season championship.
“I hope it was a good learning experience for us,” Brubacher said. “Early in the season we played very poorly.
“I think we learned quite a lot about how the game needs to be played, or at least I hope we did,” he concluded.
“If we did learn, it’s been a very good year. If we start over again next year, we didn’t accomplish what we had hoped for.”