ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
When seventh-rank Tabor College visited Friends University Saturday night, head coach Rusty Allen knew the Falcons’ 2-3 KCAC mark and 7-8 season record belied the talent Friends coach Gayla Soyez had assembled.
That point was proven on the court as Tabor had to rely on its vaunted defensive pressure in the second half to claim a 64-56 conference victory.
“We got a win on the road and that’s what really matters,” Allen said. “Friends defeated Baker University recently and took Sterling to overtime, so they’re a pretty good team-especially now that they’re healthy again.”
Early, it looked like Tabor would have little trouble with the Falcons as the Bluejays took a 4-0 lead. That advantage swelled to 19-8 when Katie Tedder scored off a Donya Anderson assist with 8:52 left in the half.
But Friends called a timeout to regroup and focus on getting the ball to the hoop. The strategy worked.
The game became a Falcon parade to the free-throw line, where they built a 12-2 advantage at the line for the half, converting 10.
The charity work contributed to an 18-2 Friends scoring run that saw the Falcons construct a 26-21 lead with 1:57 left in the half.
For Allen, the foul disparity was troubling.
“I was really getting frustrated,” he said. “It seemed like we couldn’t get any breaks. But having said that, we knew it was a physically officiated game and we have to adjust to the way they’re calling it.”
Tabor closed the half with a mini-run to tie the game at 28 at intermission.
Allen said his halftime objective was to calm the troops and regain focus.
“I told them we needed to get tougher on defense, to defend better on the interior,” he said. “We basically needed to turn up the defensive pressure.”
Tabor responded by building an early four-point lead, but Friends countered with back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in a one-minute span to led 37-32 at the 17:17 mark.
“Those baskets were a combination of bad matchups and not getting out on them,” Allen said.
The Falcons maintained their advantage over the next several minutes before Erica Hemmert drained a 3-point shot to tie the game at 44 with 10:00 to play.
The basket seemed to ignite the Bluejays, whose full-court defense discombobulated the Falcons.
At the other end Jill Hein chipped in a 3-point and 2-point basket and a pair of rebounds to fuel Tabor to a 51-44 lead.
“I challenged Jill to make things happen, and I don’t ever remember challenging her that she hasn’t come through for us,” Allen said of his senior forward. “I thought she played great in that stretch and really gave us a lift.”
With a decent lead in hand, Tabor used precision offense down the stretch to get numerous back-door baskets and cruised to the eight-point win.
Hemmert led Tabor with 20 points while Herman added 16.
Tabor made 55.6 percent (15-27) of its field-goal attempts in the second half to finish the game at 50 percent (27-54) for the game, including five of nine (55.6 percent) from the 3-point arc.
“Even though we missed several close-in shots, they weren’t uncontested shots,” Allen said. “Friends had trouble finishing down low as well and that’s because neither team gave up any easy baskets.”
Friends made 36.5 percent (19-52) of its shots from the field and 13 of 18 free throws. Tabor made only five of 13.
With its ninth straight win, Tabor improved to 12-3 overall and 6-0 in the KCAC. The Falcons fell to 7-9 and 2-4.
Ottawa-Tabor’s showdown with Ottawa Thursday night in Hillsboro was reminiscent of a game of King on the Mountain. Except neither team could maintain a foothold on the mountain.
Seventh-ranked Tabor and 20th-ranked Ottawa entered the game with identical 4-0 records in Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.
In the end, Tabor’s defense gave the Bluejays sole possession of first place with a 62-52 victory.
“There was a lot of adrenaline and intensity at the start of the game,” coach Rusty Allen said. “When you start the game and have two really quick teams, it makes it hard to score.”
Ottawa broke the ice when Hallie Boyce hit a pair of free throws and a 3-point rainbow as the Braves opened with a 6-0 run.
It wasn’t until the 16:47 mark that Erica Hemmert got free on a back cut to give Tabor its first points of the game.
Ottawa built leads of as many as six points on two occasions, the last time at 16-10 with 7:40 left.
From that point on, Tabor’s nationally ranked defense overwhelmed the Braves.
Only a field goal by Reneé Sidney with 5:43 left kept Tabor from throwing a shutout over the final seven minutes of the half.
Tabor’s 19-2 surge sent the Bluejays to the locker room with a 29-18 lead.
Allen said the run was predicated on defensive intensity.
“Once teams get a little bit tired and start to figure things out, if there’s going to be separation, that’s when it’s going to happen,” Allen said. “We stepped up the pressure and we had more depth than they did so we were able to stay fresher.
“Being able to rotate people and not losing that much made a big difference because in the last five minutes of the first half, we just dominated play on both ends of the court.”
Although Ottawa’s Brittany Broyles scored five points early in the second half, Tabor opened its lead to 19 points at 53-34 with 6:29 to play. Point guard Boyce picked up her fourth foul with 9:21 left.
“She’s really tough, but they don’t have much of a ball handler after Brittany,” Allen said. “So you can really go after the ball and it takes them out of their offense.”
But Tabor committed its share of turnovers, too. Both teams finished with 26.
“I was disappointed in our turnovers,” Allen said. “It’s just a lack of mental freedom. It’s playing within 5 feet of ourselves instead of playing the entire court. If I could explain it better, our players wouldn’t do it.”
Ottawa held Tabor without a field goal for the final four minutes and eventually cut the lead to 10 points at the end.
Ottawa shot 30.8 percent (16-52) from the floor, but Tabor connecting only 22 of 58 (37.9 percent).
Donya Anderson scored 13 points and Stacie Herman 12 for Tabor while Broyles led Ottawa with 11.
Tabor made 14 of 17 free throws while Ottawa made 16 of 21.
Tabor won the rebounding battle, 43-33; Emily Vogts led with 12.
With its eighth straight win, Tabor moved to 5-0 and 11-3 while Ottawa fell to 4-1 and 10-5.
“This was a really big win,” Allen said. “From our perspective, it was a real positive that we gave a tremendous defensive effort.
“I thought Jill (Hein) played as good of a defensive game as you’re ever going to find someone play,” he added.
Coming-Tabor will play host to Kansas Wesleyan at 6 p.m. Thursday and Saint Mary at 5 p.m. Saturday.