ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Whether or not Rusty Allen’s Tabor Bluejays sought revenge, it was apparent early in Saturday’s game with Southwestern that their jaws were set a little firmer than usual on the way to a 65-57 win.
Facing the only team to defeat them during the first half of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference schedule (62-60 on Dec. 2), the 14th ranked Tabor College women played like a team on a mission.
But in the first half the game seemed more like “Mission Impossible” as the Bluejays played with determination but not much success.
With Southwestern leading 17-10 with 9:23 left in the half Tabor reeled off a 10-0 run over the next four minutes to take a 20-17 lead.
But Southwestern scored 11 of the final 13 points of the half to take a 30-22 lead at halftime.
“We talked about guarding their 3-point shooters better at halftime,” coach Rusty Allen said after the Moundbuilders connected on five of 10 3-pointers land in the opening 20 minutes. “As it turned out, the rest of their game kind of faltered when we took their 3-point shot away.”
The Bluejays were more than ready to take advantage of the opportunity.
With 11 points coming from Stacie Herman, last week’s KCAC player-of-the-week, Tabor opened a seven-point lead with a 23-8 blitz.
Herman finished with a game-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“Stacie was amazing on the offensive end of the court,” Allen said. “She made good solid plays within the framework of what we were trying to do. She was just being a team player and took advantage of every opportunity she had.”
Also sparking the second-half surge was the work Donya Anderson and her teammates did on the offensive glass. Anderson hauled in 11 rebounds in all, five on the offensive end.
“Donya just snuffed them on the boards,” Allen said. “I told them before the game I’d like to have a game where we come in when it’s over and say we’re proud of our effort on the offensive glass. I am proud of the job we did tonight.”
Tabor erased any doubts of who would be victorious by turning a 50-44 lead with 10:23 to play, into a 61-44 lead at the 5:00 mark.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had that big of a lead on Southwestern in recent years,” Allen said. “I just thought we played great.”
Allen said Saturday’s outcome was different than the December meeting because Tabor played a better defense.
“We defended their post players a lot better tonight than we did the first game against them,” he said. “They hurt us inside before, but they only had eight points in the post tonight.”
Southwestern outscored Tabor 13-4 in the final five minutes.
“I wish we could have closed out better,” he said. “But it’s hard to put the clamps on and completely squeeze it out when you have that big of a lead.”
Besides Herman’s output, Tabor got 12 points from Anderson and 10 from both Jill Hein and Erica Hemmert, who also chipped in five assists.
Tabor connected on 25 of 61 field goal attempts (41 percent) and seven of 17 (41.2 percent) from beyond the arc.
Tabor’s aggressive defense forced 20 turnovers that the Bluejays converted into 21 points.
With their 11th straight win, Tabor improved to 16-4 overall and 9-1 in KCAC play while Southwestern fell to 12-8 and 5-5.
Ottawa-Fresh off its big win over Sterling on Saturday, Tabor traveled to Ottawa on Thursday and survived with an error-filled 64-61 victory.
“I knew it would be a tough game,” coach Rusty Allen said. “From the moment we walked into the Sterling locker room last Saturday night…I knew this game would be tough.”
A slow start contributed to Tabor’s struggle as Ottawa built an early 9-2 lead. The Bluejays tied the Braves at 13 with 10:10 to play before Stacie Herman gave Tabor its first lead of the night just 20 seconds later.
The rest of the half was a struggle for both teams. The game was tied on four occasions and the lead changed hands three times.
Three 3-point baskets by Erica Dechant staked Tabor to a slim 27-25 lead at intermission.
“Erica can get in a zone and fire it in the hole,” Allen said. “She can really put the ball in the basket when she gets hot.”
Tabor came out in the second half with guns blazing, quickly establishing a 34-25 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Herman and Jill Hein.
But just when the Bluejays seemed to be taking control of the contest, Ottawa scored seven straight points to whittle the lead to 34-32.
Keying the surge was a full-court press that badgered Tabor into numerous turnovers.
“I told our players there are simple things to do to beat pressure in the backcourt that I didn’t prepare them very well for,” Allen. “I told them the next time we play them, we’ll be much better prepared.”
Ottawa eventually overtook Tabor to grab a 40-38 lead. The Braves extended their lead to 58-51 with just 4:07 remaining.
“There was a time in this game that you would have had to have thought we were beat,” Allen said. “But at the same time, I’ve come to believe in my team a lot-they just don’t give in.”
Allen’s faith was justified.
Tabor turned up the defensive heat and Ott or awa wilted.
“We tried to pick up the pressure on the press and we went to our trapping press,” Allen said. “We also talked about attacking the basket on offense, and when you force turnovers, it makes it easier to attack. So they all work together.”
A pair of free throws by Katie Fast, a 3-point basket by Herman and a 2-pointer by Hein tied the score at 58 just 55 seconds later.
The game was tied again at 60 before Herman put Tabor on top, 62-60, with 1:30 to play.
Ottawa convert one of two free throws with less than a minute left before fouling Kelly Pavlik with just 33 seconds to play.
Pavlik calmly drilled both free throws.
“If you’ve watched Kelly play all year, it probably doesn’t surprise you she made them,” Allen said. “She’s kind of a poker-faced player. She’s probably going to make a better percentage at that point in the game than in the normal course of the game.”
Tabor survived a 3-point attempt from Ottawa in the final 20 seconds to celebrate their 10th straight win.
Dechant led Tabor with 13 points, Herman added 12 and Hein 11. Tabor connected on 26 of 55 attempts (47.3 percent) including seven of14 from the 3-point line. Ottawa made 27 of 68 shots (39.7 percent) from the field. Tabor committed 23 turnovers and Ottawa 19.
“This win was huge and important for us to reach our goal of winning the conference title,” Allen said.
Coming-Tabor heads to Wichita Thursday night to battle the Friends Falcons, who currently are tied for first place in the KCAC with the Bluejays.
“They’re really good defensively. They have a good post player, a deep 3-point threat and an aggressive point guard,” Allen said.
“You have to think going into their place, we’ll get their very best shot because this game could determine the conference championship.”
Game time is 6 p.m.