ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The No. 22-ranked Tabor College men discovered just how short the distance is between the penthouse and the outhouse Wednesday night in Hillsboro.
Coming off emotional wins over Sterling and Ottawa to complete a remarkable title run last weekend, the Bluejays played without emotion or execution. The result was a 54-52 loss to the eighth-seeded Friends Falcons in the quarterfinals of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference post-season tournament.
“It’s obvious we had a letdown but it’s also obvious we played the way we often have even in our 10-game winning streak,” coach Don Brubacher said. “The difference was we didn’t have the really good stretches to carry us through this game.”
From the early moments, it was obvious Tabor wasn’t on its game as Friends bolted to an 8-0 lead in less than four minutes.
On two occasions in the first half, the lead grew to nine points-the last being 15-6 at the 10:36 mark.
Tabor did piece together a mini-run that included back-to-back 3-point baskets by Jared Reese and Josh Wertenberger to slice the lead to a single point, 17-16. But shoddy play doomed the Bluejays to a 30-23 halftime deficit.
Tabor committed 10 turnovers in the first half, many of which occurred in the open court.
“Friends had people running into passing lanes and our pass receivers weren’t running to meet the pass,” Brubacher said. “We telegraphed our passes and threw them without checking the defense.
“If you want to pick out one single element that swung the game, it was just those turnovers we committed on top,” he added. “We gave up easy points. They had 30 points at halftime and 13 of those came off turnovers. That’s really an immense swing in the basketball game, but it’s indicative of how we played.”
As the second half started, the Bluejays showed signs of being a team with a 10-game winning streak.
Four points each from Brad Gattis and Anthony Monson, combined with a layup by Andy Brubacher, thrust Tabor on a 10-2 run and a 33-32 lead with 17:01 remaining. But it proved to be Tabor’s only lead of the night.
Brubacher said the run was the only good offensive effort his team offered.
“We played well on both ends,” he said. “We rebounded well and we looked like we knew what we were trying to accomplish.
“We looked organized and determined and won very dramatically in that stretch. But after a few minutes of that, we’d had enough of that level of effort and focus.”
One positive constant throughout the night was Tabor’s tenacity on defense. The Bluejay zone was designed to counter the athleticism and quickness of the Falcons and, for the most part, it worked as Friends continually ran the shot clock down before forcing a difficult shot.
But the effort on defense wasn’t enough to counteract the anemic output on offense as Friends built an eight-point lead, 48-40, with just over eight minutes left.
Down the stretch, Gattis scored six points and Martin de Boer added a field goal to pull Tabor to within 52-50 with 2:13 remaining.
Neither team scored for nearly two minutes. Friends misfired on its shot attempts and Tabor used its possessions to increase its turnover total.
But the drought was broken when de Boer was hammered on a shot and calmly drained a pair of free throws to tie the game at 52 with 33 seconds to play.
Following a timeout, Friends spread the court with the hope of getting the game-winning shot.
With just under 10 seconds to play, Leo Williams drove to the hoop and missed his shot. But de Boer was whistled for a reaching foul on the rebound and Greg Carrell drained a pair of free throws with 5.3 seconds to play.
Tabor used 2.3 of those seconds to advance the ball into the fore court. But Gattis misfired from the free-throw circle and the Falcons celebrated their second win in as many tries over the Bluejays this season in Tabor Gymnasium.
Gattis and Monson led Tabor with 10 points each. The Bluejays connected on 22 of 47 field goal attempts (47 percent) while limiting the Falcons to 21 of 57 tries (37 percent) from the field.
Tabor made only two of 14 shots (14 percent) from beyond the 3-point line, compared to Friends’ four of 12 (33 percent).
Brubacher said his defense was good, but not good enough to carry the Bluejays to a victory.
“Our defense gave us a chance to win the game, but as bad as we were offensively, that’s not good enough,” he said. “We needed to hold them to 50 points to win tonight-54 was too many. That’s pretty ridiculous for a college basketball game if you can’t produce more than 54 points on your home court, but it’s where we were.
“And that’s where we always are when we play against an aggressive defense and we’re not executing our offensive game,” he added. “We don’t have the athleticism to have the game go our way just on individual play. We have to execute our game with reasonable speed, intensity and just alert play.”
Tabor struggled from the free-throw line hitting six of 12, while Friends made eight of 10 (80 percent).
Tabor’s 17 turnovers led to 17 Falcons points; Friends committed just 10 turnovers.
With its first loss since Jan. 15, Tabor falls to 20-9 for the season.
The Bluejays will be back in action either March 9 or 10 at the NAIA Division II national tournament at Point Lookout, Mo.
Tabor’s first-round pairing will be posted on the Free Press Web site as soon as it becomes available.