Bluejay men pick up first two wins at Warrior Classic

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Tabor College men almost let a 14-point lead slip through their fingers, but did step up at crunch time to post an 83-76 win over St. Gregory University and sweep both games at the Warrior Classic in Sterling this weekend.

After avenging their Nov. 13 loss to Northwestern Oklahoma State University on Friday, the Bluejays came out flat Saturday against the 2-4 Cavaliers from St. Gregory.

Eight minutes into the game, the Bluejays were down 17-10. But over the next seven minutes, Tabor got offensive production from seven players, including Scott Schaffer, Andy Brubacher, James Black and Brad Gattis, to put Tabor on top, 29-21 with 5:16 left in the half.

The Bluejays maintained an eight-point spread at halftime, 40-32.

Tabor came out flat at the start of the second half, too, and saw its lead dwindle to two points, 54-52, on back-to-back 3-pointers by guards Patrick Williams and Trey Sims.

But Bluejay transfer Chris Metcalf fueled a 13-2 run over the next 41/2 minutes with six points to push the lead back to 13 at 67-54.

“He had a lot of good plays for us on both ends of the court,” coach Don Brubacher said of the 6-foot-6 guard. “He guarded well and rebounded well and produced some real high-percentage offense for us during that stretch.”

When Martin De Boer scored in the paint on a great assist from Grant Brubacher, Tabor led by 14 points, 74-60, with six minutes to play.

But reminiscent of their near-fatal swoon the previous night, the Bluejays let the Cavaliers back into the game with a 14-4 surge that pulled St. Gregory’s into within four points, 78-74, with 1:50 to play.

After De Boer hit one of two free throws with 1:06 to go, Tarrin Baker scored on a drive to the basket to narrow the margin to three, 79-76, with 52 seconds to go.

But De Boer scored on an inside spin move with 23 seconds left to all but seal the victory. After St. Gregory’s missed a shot, De Boer hit two more free throws to ice it at 83-76 with 14 seconds left.

The 6-7 senior transfer led a balanced attack with 13 points. Right behind him were Schaffer and Metcalf with 12 and Gattis with 11.

As a team, the Bluejays shot nearly 63 percent in the second half to finish at 51 percent for the game.

With back-to-back wins over two NAIA Division I schools in two days, the Bluejays improved their record to 2-2 for the season.

“We have (made progress) in some respects,” Brubacher said about his team. “It’s not going to be completely consistent progress with this group. We have a lot of new players in our program who are learning our system and are playing different roles than they did in the past.

“There’s just a lot of adjustment that needs to go on for them, and just a completely different group than we had last year. It’s a different style of basketball. So all of our returners have adjustments to make in their individual games, too.

“We’re not just going to get better in every aspect of the game and retain all of it-which we’d like to do, of course,” he added. “We forgot some of the lessons we had learned last night and we’re going to have to get back to that.

“We’ve made some progress. We just have to hope we can retain a substantial portion of it.”

Northwestern Oklahoma State-Tabor tasted sweet revenge on Friday with a 79-74 overtime victory over the NWOSU Rangers, a team that had defeated the Bluejays by 14 points only six days earlier.

It was a battle all the way.

The two teams played evenly through the first 81/2 minutes, but a 7-0 run by Northwestern pushed the lead to 10 points at 31-21 with 6:09 left in the half.

Martin De Boer then fueled a 15-4 Tabor rebuttal with seven points in the final five minutes. His two free throws with 1:01 left pulled Tabor within one point, then two more free throws by Tony Monson with 35 seconds left gave Tabor a 36-35 halftime lead.

The game remained close throughout the second half. When Northwestern’s Shane Hansen nailed a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, the Rangers led, 64-61.

But De Boer nailed two free throws with 17.2 seconds left to pull Tabor back within one point. After Keith West missed the front end of a one-and-one with 16.4 seconds left, Tabor had De Boer on the line with 11.2 seconds left to shoot two free throws. He swished the first one to tie the game, but his second toss popped out, and the game went into overtime when West missed a desperation shot.

“I felt that when we had the lead at the end of regulation, we really went flat offensively,” coach Don Brubacher said. “We became so cautious, so conservative that we didn’t really put any pressure on them at all. I thought that was just a huge factor in us having to go to overtime instead of ending it in regulation.”

De Boer regained his touch at the free-throw line, going 4-for-4 during the first two minutes of the overtime to give Tabor a 68-66 lead. But a basket and a two free throws by Northwestern tied the game at 70 with 1:48 to play.

Then Tabor’s Brad Gattis stepped up with a huge 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:24 left to give the Bluejays a three-point advantage, 73-70. Two free throws by Schaffer after an offensive foul bumped the lead to 75-70.

But four free throws by Northwestern pulled the Rangers back to within one point with less than 40 seconds left. Tabor kept possession until De Boer was fouled with 18.4 seconds left. He made the first free throw, but missed the second, giving the Rangers another chance to tie or go ahead.

NWOSU did get the ball to Raheen Jones in the paint. But the burly 6-foot-6 post player, who had given Tabor fits all night, didn’t see Grant Brubacher sneaking in from the backside.

The Tabor junior stole the ball, lobbed it up court to Schaffer, who scored the layup and a bonus free throw on the ensuing foul to ice the 79-74 win.

“It was a really good heads-up defensively play,” Coach Brubacher said of the steal.

The Bluejays shot 46 percent from the field, led by De Boer’s 23 points, including 12 of 17 free throws. Grant Brubacher and Gattis each added 12 points.

“We still didn’t shoot the ball very well, and when you don’t shoot it very well you have to try to get things done some other way. The guys found a way to get just enough.”

Washburn-Two days before the Warrior Classic in Sterling, Tabor dropped an 89-70 game in Topeka to the Washburn Ichabods, ranked No. 5 in NCAA Div. II.

Washburn’s size and strength inside were too much for the Bluejays, as the Ichabods scored 54 points in the paint compared to just 36 for Tabor.

“We were able to match up with their skills on the perimeter, but their size and athleticism on the inside was what we couldn’t match,” coach Don Brubacher said. “But the play itself wasn’t that lopsided.

“Washburn just finished better around the basket than we did,” he added. “I think both teams probably had about the same number of opportunities in the lane, but they were better at taking advantage of their chances than we were.”

Tabor connected on just under 35 percent of its shots from the field compared to 49 percent for the Ichabods.

Leading the attack for Tabor was Grant Brubacher, who scored 12 points. Eight of his points came from the charity stripe, where Tabor hit on 14 of 16 as a team.

Tabor was out-rebounded, 57-35.

“Obviously the statistics indicate we shot the ball very poorly and we once again had huge troubles on the defensive boards,” Brubacher said. “It’s easy to identify a half dozen opportunities we missed easy shots and an equal amount for them that did produce points.

“That’s a big swing. It’s a matter of being alert and tough enough.”

A bright spot for Tabor was committing just 10 turnovers.

“That number for a game against a high-level opponent like Washburn is a good result for us,” Brubacher said.

With the loss, Tabor dropped to 0-2 for the season.

“I was pleased with our effort,” Brubacher said. “I think our guys are trying to play hard and execute our game-that’s the most positive aspect.”

Coming-Tabor is scheduled to host the high-flying Newman Jets tonight (Wednesday), starting at 8:30 p.m.

On Friday, the Jays will be in Hastings, Neb., to play Graceland College of Lamoni, Iowa, and then will take on Baker University in Hastings on Saturday.

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