ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY DON RATZLAFF & TOM STOPPEL
by Don Ratzlaff & Tom Stoppel
The Free Press
Stretches of brilliance combined with solid play down the stretch were enough to carry the Tabor College men to a 77-70 win over Bacone College in Saturday’s finale at the Sterling Classic.
The Bluejays started the game brilliantly, dominating a taller and very athletic NCAA Division II team from Oklahoma.
Chris Metcalf used some athletic moves of his own in the paint to score the first two baskets of the game. It put the 6-foot-6 senior on the road to a team-high 21 points for the night.
Even some weak free-throw shooting didn’t slow the Bluejay express in the early minutes. When Matt Nelson hit his second straight jump shot at the 12:54 mark, Tabor had built a commanding 23-9 advantage.
But a 3-pointer by Bacone’s Chivas Miller started the Warriors on steady 14-4 rally that pulled them to within 27-23 with 8:41 to play.
Bacone took its first lead at 35-34 with 34 seconds left in the half. But a bucket by Pat Miller with 41 seconds left put the Bluejays back on top at the break, 36-35.
Tabor coach Don Brubacher credited Bacone’s comeback to his team losing its intensity after building the big lead.
“The last 10 minutes of the first half was a poor effort in every respect,” he said. “We rushed on the offensive end and took bad chances.
“It was very obvious in our play, especially on the defensive end, that we did not battle during that stretch. We sort of wanted to play cute and soft and we paid an immense price for it.”
In the opening 4:32 of the second half, Tabor built a 48-43 lead with Metcalf, Nelson and Brad Gattis leading the way at the offensive end.
But a 3-pointer by Chris Mathurin capped a 7-0 run that pulled the Warriors back into the lead at 57-54 with 9:33 to play.
After another bucket by Mathurin extended Bacone’s lead to five points, Gattis nailed back-to-back 3-pointers and Jared Reese followed with consecutive buckets in the paint on some great perimeter feeds, fueling a 10-0 surge and giving Tabor a 65-59 lead with 6:29 to play.
The Bluejays then battled the Warriors evenly down the stretch to nail down the seven-point win.
“We went through some cycles in the second half doing the same thing (soft play),” Brubacher said. “But we also showed some stretches where we did play really, really hard. We competed physically in an appropriate way, and at other times we didn’t. We’re still learning.”
Metcalf compiled his 21 points by making nine of 13 shots from the floor and three of six free-throws. He also chipped in six rebounds.
Gattis finished right behind Metcalf with 20 points, including four 3-pointers on seven attempts. The Hesston senior tied Nelson with a team-high seven rebounds.
As a team, the Bluejays made 57 percent of their field-goal attempts in the second half to finish the game at a very respectable 52.5 percent. The Bluejays made a third of the 18 3-pointers they shot.
Mathurin, a 6-3 junior, led both teams with 24 points, including four of seven 3-point attempts. He added a game-high eight rebounds.
For the game, Bacone finished with nearly 42 percent shooting from the field, including 6-for-21 success from behind the arc.
Brubacher was glad for the win that moved his team to 3-2 for the season, but he underlined that his team needs to develop more consistency as the season progresses.
“As a team we proved we could dominate when we play really well, but they dominated us just as badly when we lost our focus, lost our intensity, lost our discipline.
“That’s the way I see it.”
Oklahoma Wesleyan-Tabor evened its record at 2-2 Friday at the Sterling Classic with a 70-56 win over Oklahoma Wesleyan.
But just like the Bluejay women in the day’s first game, it took the men some time to get things rolling.
Early, Tabor opted for the 3-point shot, but misfired on four of its first five attempts. That enabled the Eagles to soar to an eight-point lead at 17-9 with 12:53 left in the first half.
“Our offense early on consisted of just letting the 3-point shot fly and we aren’t an effective team when we do that,” coach Don Brubacher said. “In order for us to be effective, we need to work the ball and set strong screens.”
Heeding the coach’s advice, Tabor began to use entry passes to its advantage. The primary beneficiary inside was Brad Gattis, who scored six quick points.
“We had good success throwing the ball inside to Bradley, but we just didn’t do it often enough,” Brubacher said. “But we were able to generate some offense when he kicked the ball back outside, to a certain extent.”
That certain extent resulted in 3-point baskets from Grant Brubacher, Jared Reese and Tyler Weinbrenner.
Suddenly, an eight-point deficit turned into a Tabor lead that grew until halftime, when the Bleujays took its largest lead of at 37-28.
“We were fortunate to be leading at all at halftime,” Brubacher said. “We struggled offensively, and when we did get the shot we wanted, we couldn’t make it.”
Tabor’s momentum continued into the second half as the Bluejays hit Oklahoma Wesleyan with a 10-1 run that led to an 18-point lead at 47-29 with 15:46 to play.
Leading the surge was Matt Nelson, who finished with a game-high 17 points, including three of five 3-point attempts.
“It’s always nice to have someone with a hot hand,” Brubacher said. “But (the Eagles) weren’t really concerned about our outside shooting, so they weren’t guarding us very close.”
OWU closed to within 12 points at 50-38 with 12:42 remaining, but finished with a 14-point margin at the end.
In addition to Nelson’s 17 points, Gattis added 15, Reese 12 and Tyler Weinbrenner contributed 10 points and five assists.
Tabor hit 24 of 54 shots (44.4 percent) from the field while Wesleyan connected on 21 of 57 (36.8 percent).
“A win is a win, but I don’t really think we gained a lot from this one,” Brubacher said. “But if winning breeds confidence, hopefully this win will help us in that respect.”
Coming-The Bluejays will take a 3-2 record to the four-team Dordt (Iowa) College Tournament this weekend.
On Friday, Tabor will tip off against Northwestern College at 6 p.m.. On Saturday, the Bluejays will take on the host team at 4 p.m.