Bluejays earn a pair of wins in Pizza Hut Classic

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Good things come to those who wait, but Tabor College coach Don Brubacher had to be getting impatient waiting for his Bluejays to run their zone offense effectively.

The wait, it seems, is over.

Tabor played perhaps its most unselfish basketball of the season in the final 11 minutes Saturday night and transformed a two-point deficit into a 15-point, 88-73, win over Central Methodist University in the final round of the Pizza Hut Classic in Hillsboro.

In the process, the Bluejays put a smile on the face of their coach.

“There was some beautiful basketball played on several possessions tonight,” Brubacher said. “Just-wow.”

“As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get any better than that on any level.”

Unfortunately, Brubacher had to watch his team reenact its sub-par performance from the previous night by building a double-digit lead in the first half only to see it melt away before halftime.

A layup by Brad Gattis with 12:41 to play in the half gave Tabor a 20-4 lead. It appeared TC had finally acquired the Midas touch.

But when the smelt was hot, the glitter turned to fool’s gold just as quickly. Tabor stumbled the rest of the half, allowing its 16-point lead to dwindle to a single basket, 36-34, by halftime.

“We struggled horribly in the final 12 minutes or so of the first half,” Brubacher said. “Once again, we didn’t handle the zone well, but it’s a learning process and we had some difficulty with that.”

Tabor’s swoon continued into the second half as CMU built a 50-44 lead at the 16:27 mark.

But Tabor’s fortunes were about to turn, sparked by Jason Dechant’s Magic Johnson-like passing.

Dechant’s assists to Gattis, Friday night’s hero, and Martin de Boer on consecutive possessions put Tabor back on top, 55-54, with 12:23 to play.

Moments later, taking a feed from Grant Brubacher, Gattis slammed home a vicious dunk, giving Tabor clear momentum.

“Brad had an excellent game tonight and Martin played great as well,” Brubacher said. “I thought the absolute turning point of the game was when Jason made two absolutely pinpoint passes against the zone and we got the ball to the basket both times and finished.

“It wasn’t just Jason, but he contributed a lot to our success against their zone.”

Those assists propelled Tabor to a 12-0 run, staking the Bluejays to a 70-60 lead with just over eight minutes to play.

Brubacher said his team finally did what they are taught everyday to do against a zone.

“We passed the ball very well and got the ball to the rim with nice interior passing, and we actually finished the play when we got the ball to the rim,” he said. “We tried to attack the basket and take the openings where they were on the court.

“If we continue to execute on this level, we’ll start shooting the ball better from the perimeter.”

Trailing by 10 points, the Eagles’ road trip and games on consecutive days caught up with them, as they wilted down the stretch due mainly to Tabor’s spirited offense.

The Bluejays’ lead swelled to 19 points at 86-67 before settling for the 88-73 win.

De Boer led Tabor with 20 points and seven rebounds. Gattis added 16 points, Andy Brubacher 14 and Pat Miller 10 as Tabor blistered the nets in the second half, hitting 58 percent of its shots and finishing the game at 51.6 percent.

Brubacher said his bench played “absolutely outstanding,” and 15 players saw court time.

“Individuals, of course, make plays, but the team was functioning well together,” he said. “I was really proud of how we played in stretches. We got the ball to the basket, took high-percentage shots and when that happens, it’s really fun to watch.”

Tabor’s unselfish play led to 22 assists. Scott Shaffer led the team with five.

With the win, Tabor improved to 8-6 overall heading back into conference action this Thursday night at Bethel College.

Brubacher said his team’s preparation against non-conference teams is over and the Bluejays are headed in the right direction.

“I felt we wasted some of our non-conference games early in the season, and some of that’s my fault because we’ve changed a lot of our system,” he said. “But we’re doing better now. The system we have now is better for us.”

With Tabor’s 2-2 record in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, Brubacher hopes his team rises to the challenge of defending its conference title.

“We hope we’re ready to get back into the conference, but you never know,” he said. “We played pretty well before conference play in December and then we came out and stumbled, so it’s hard to say.

“But I’m really proud of our guys tonight-they stepped up and played together as a team.”

Hastings-Early in Friday’s 64-53 win over Hastings College, Tabor looked like the team that gave NCAA Division II Emporia State a battle back on Dec. 18.

Buoyed by the strong inside play of Martin de Boer and Chris Metcalf, Tabor streaked to a 17-7 lead nine minutes into the contest and appeared to be on its way to a rout of the Broncos, owners of a 2-12 record.

But bad habits die hard and an early season nemesis of the Bluejays-establishing offensive continuity against a zone defense-reared its head once again.

“They went zone and we struggled against it,” coach Don Brubacher said. “We quit doing the things we are supposed to do against a zone.”

The result was a flat final 11 minutes of the first half that allowed Hastings to tie the game at 28 by halftime.

“We had our typical problems,” Brubacher said. “We couldn’t hit a layup, we couldn’t make a 3-point shot and we couldn’t find anything in between. We got wide-open 3-point looks, but couldn’t make anything.

“When we did get the ball to the basket, which was not nearly as frequently as we could have or should have, we couldn’t make that either.”

The Bluejays finished the first half with 35 percent shooting from the floor, and just 2-for-2 from the free-throw line-statistics which left the Bluejay coach shaking his head.

“It’s typical for us,” Brubacher said. “When we’re struggling, we have nothing to go to.

“It’s been the story of our season for the most part,” he added.

The second half opened with the teams trading baskets before Anthony Monson scored to put Tabor on top 32-30, a lead they’d never relinquish.

But maintaining the lead wasn’t easy.

Leading by a slim 38-35 margin with 14:38 to play, Brubacher inserted Brad Gattis into the game for the first time, and the All-KCAC performer responded.

Assists from Gattis resulted in a 3-point basket by Andy Brubacher and two consecutive baskets by Scott Shaffer to stake Tabor to a 45-37 lead.

“Brad gave us a good lift,” Brubacher said of the Hesston junior. “He stepped up to the challenge of getting the ball to the rim and finished a couple of them down low.”

Brubacher said the difference in his team’s play on offense from the first half to the second was simply the result of a refresher course at halftime.

“We tried to remind them of the fundamentals,” he said. “We took the 3-point shot too quickly in the first half and we had nobody on the offensive glass because we weren’t in our offense yet.”

Tabor stretched its lead against the Bronco zone to 50-39 at the 9:44 mark. From there, Tabor did what was necessary down the stretch, including hitting key free throws, and cruised to the 11-point victory.

Combining pinpoint passes and effective off-ball movement, Tabor scorched the nets at a 54.5 percent clip in the final 20 minutes and finished the night hitting 43 percent.

Metcalf led a balanced attack with 10 points. Monson added nine points and Grant Brubacher scored eight points and added five assists.

“Chris Metcalf did a nice job, but all of our 4 and 5 people made some plays on occasion,” Brubacher said. “We just have to find the people who are able to do it consistently.”

Tabor won the battle of the boards, 40-25, led by Shaffer with seven rebounds.

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