ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor College men took Yogi Berra’s immortal, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” to heart Saturday night, erasing a 25-point first half deficit to capture a dramatic 63-60 win over Friends in Wichita.
Head coach Don Brubacher’s 366th career victory was exciting and close to unbelievable.
“Quite honestly, you don’t expect to accomplish this on the road,” an emotionally drained Brubacher said afterward. “It’s a very pleasant surprise that our players were able to compete that well for the complete 20 minutes in the second half.”
That it came to that point was the result of a miserable performance in the opening 20 minutes.
Falling behind 12-2 early, the Bluejays went from bad to worse. Tabor made only eight of 23 shots from the floor in the first half, committed eight turnovers and were out-rebounded 20-11.
“Friends had 22 points off turnovers and second chances in the first half,” Brubacher said. “When that happens, you can’t expect to be very close on the scoreboard.”
And they weren’t.
Tabor’s deficit reached its apex when Stacy Bias scored to give Friends a 44-19 lead with 2:00 remaining in the half.
The Falcon’s pressure defense caused the Bluejays fits.
“We did everything wrong on the offensive end,” Brubacher said. “We didn’t attack the initial pressure, but then we shot it quickly as we got into half court offense.
“We became hopelessly disconcerted and we went downhill from there,” he added.
“Friends played with immense energy in their full-court pressure. We got what we deserved in the first half.”
Though still trailing 44-26 at halftime, Tabor’s 7-0 run to close out the first half was a sign of things to come. The Bluejays finally trimmed Friends’ lead to single digits at 58-47 with 8:06 left to play.
Brubacher said several factors contributed to the comeback.
“Most importantly, we rebounded much better on the defensive end,” he said. “We did score better, too, but we handled the ball better and cut down on our turnovers and finally showed some determination on the defensive end.”
Andy Brubacher completed Tabor’s remarkable climb with a 3-point basket with 2:24 remaining to earn Tabor its first lead of the night at 60-58.
Tabor’s raucous crowd spurred Tabor on and transformed Garvey Gym into Tabor South Gymnasium.
That support didn’t go unnoticed.
“We have a lot of people in the Wichita area who like to come out and watch this game,” Brubacher said. “That certainly helped.”
During the final chaotic minutes, Friends made a pair of free throws while Tabor got one free throw from Gattis and a pair from Grant Brubacher as Tabor held on for the improbable win.
Jared Reese led Tabor’s assault with 15 points, including nine of 11 free throws. Chris Metcalf added 11 points.
After misfiring in the first half, Tabor shot a sizzling 11-for-18 (61.1 percent) from the field in the second half while Friends connected on only four of 19 shots (21.1 percent).
“You hope our energy level will at least stay close to what it was in the second half in coming games,” Brubacher said. “You’d hope we learned our lesson.”
With the win, Tabor remains a factor in the KCAC race with a 4-2 record and improved to 7-8 overall. The Falcons fell to 3-3 and 7-8.
Ottawa-Even though a free throw is a 15-foot uncontested shot, it’s really a misnomer to call it “free.”
A 68-62 loss to Ottawa on Thursday was the price the Bluejays paid for 53.8 percent (14-26) shooting at the line.
“Free throw shooting obviously hurt us immensely from beginning to end,” coach Don Brubacher said.
The loss dropped Tabor from a tie for the KCAC lead. The Bluejays fell to 3-2 in the conference, a game behind Southwestern, Ottawa and Sterling.
Tabor started well as Grant Brubacher and Matt Nelson stroked back-to-back 3-point baskets to give Tabor an 8-4 lead at the 16:37 mark.
But over the next 10 minutes, the lead changed four times and five times the score was tied.
It wasn’t until Bret Lickteig scored at the 5:03 mark that Ottawa took a 24-22 lead, which they built to six points with only five seconds left in the half.
A 70-foot sprint by Grant Brubacher culminated with a short floater at the buzzer to slice the lead to 33-29 at the break.
Coach Brubacher said while his team played better than it did in two humbling losses last week, it still has much room to improve.
“We executed better than we did over the weekend, but we still need to play substantially faster than we did (tonight),” he said. “Offensively, we’re moving so slowly that it’s easy to guard us.
“I don’t know if it’s a matter of indecision or what, but I know it’s not a matter of physical ability.”
The second half was more like a fight for the conference lead as Tabor cut the lead to 41-40 on a 3-pointer by Pat Miller with 15:09 remaining.
The teams traded baskets for the next seven minutes before Tabor took its first lead of the half when Matt Nelson stole the ball and scored on a layup for a 51-50 advantage.
After five more lead changes, the game was tied at 55 with 6:48 to play. But 14 seconds later, Marquis Washington hit a two-handed 3-point set shot to give Ottawa a 58-55 lead.
After Tabor missed on the other end, Lickteig scored on a reverse layup for a 60-55 lead with 5:53 to play.
Brubacher said Tabor’s offense, while not perfect, still functioned well enough to provide decent shots but as has been the case all too often this season, Tabor had trouble scoring.
Trailing by six, the Bluejays had trouble converting free throws down the stretch. But Washington converted four consecutive charities in the final 33 seconds to nail down the win.
Four Bluejays finished in double figures. Grant Brubacher and Nelson each had 15, Brad Gattis 13 and Chris Metcalf 11.
Tabor made 22 of 45 shots (48.9 percent) from the field while Ottawa made 24 of 48 (50 percent).
Ottawa made 14 of 19 free throws.
Tabor forced 15 Brave turnovers while committing 14.
“That was still too many,” Brubacher said. “Our turnovers were just carelessness, and when you only get 45 shots in the entire game, each turnover is magnified.”
With the loss, Tabor fell to 6-8 overall and 3-2 in the KCAC while Ottawa improved to 4-1 and 5-10.
Coming- Tabor will play host to Kansas Wesleyan at 8 p.m. Thursday before hosting Saint Mary at 7 p.m. Saturday.