Bluejays hold Saint Mary to 28 points in easy Tabor win

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY TOM STOPPEL
Fans who watched the Tabor College men defeat Saint Mary, 57-28, Saturday night in Hillsboro, won’t be seeing a replay of the game on ESPN Classics.

With only eight players suited to play, first-year Spires coach Leonard Sparkman resorted to exhausting the 35-second shot clock on each possession in the first half to keep his team in contention.

Sparkman’s ploy helped limit the Bluejays to 23 first-half points, but it also led to his own team scoring only nine points-and it took a traditional three-point play in the final minute to accomplish that.

“I know one of their best players, a senior guard who can score, was hurt early in the year,” Brubacher said about the Spires’ plight. “But I don’t follow their program to know if they lost other players along the way.”

Whatever the reason, it’s clear why the Spires are winless in the KCAC.

Brubacher said the contest provided an excellent learning opportunity for his club.

“We obviously had something we needed to work on, and that’s our offense against a spread zone defense,” he said. “We never did figure it out in the first half.”

Statistics backed up Brubacher’s contention.

Although Saint Mary hit under 24 percent in the half (4-17), Tabor was equally inept, throwing 31 shots and making only eight, including a chilly 3-for-16 from behind the 3-point arc.

“There’s two approaches to playing against a zone defense like we saw tonight that really doesn’t challenge the perimeter shooters,” Brubacher said. “One approach is to simply shoot the ball over the zone and hope you make enough to win.

“That was our approach in the first half,” he added. “The other is to attack the heart of the zone and find ways to penetrate the zone with the pass, the dribble or with positioning.”

Fortunately for Tabor fans who endured the opening 20 minutes, Brubacher’s squad took to heart his halftime message about penetrating the zone.

The result: Tabor made 13 of its first 15 shots in the second half and transformed a moderately close game into rout.

The Bluejays made numerous high-percentage shots because point guard Grant Brubacher broke down the Spires’ zone.

“Grant did a nice job with penetration from the point with control, our wing people-Matt (Nelson), Andy (Brubacher) and Grant when we rotated-did a nice job of creating play and our big people did a wonderful job of finding space and getting seals,” Brubacher said.

“At the start of the second half, I felt we did a very nice job attacking the heart of the zone.”

Tabor’s lead allowed Brubacher to substitute freely down the stretch as 16 players logged time.

Tabor, on the strength of 67 percent shooting in the second half (16-24), finished with a respectable 44 percent (24-55) from the field while limiting the Spires to 12 of 47 shots (26 percent).

“We definitely had some breakdowns (defensively), but for the most part, we maintained our defensive discipline and effort and I was pleased with that,” Brubacher said.

With the win, Tabor stayed one game out of first place in the KCAC with a 6-2 mark while improving to 9-8 overall. Saint Mary fell to 0-8 and 1-14.

Kansas Wesleyan-Thursday was the final regular-season appearance by retiring KWU coach Jerry Jones in Hillsboro, but Tabor’s going-away present was one more defeat.

Tabor combined precision marksmanship-56 percent shooting from the field-and strong second-half defense to down the Coyotes 71-61 Thursday.

“We did some really good things tonight,” coach Don Brubacher said. “We just need to continue to work on our game so we don’t have any aspect that’s so destructive to us. We need to consistently execute every aspect or our game.”

The early going was tough for Tabor as Wesleyan’s Marcus Faubion had the early hot hand by scoring the Coyote’s first seven points in a see-saw battle.

With Wesleyan leading 17-10 lead at the 10:31 mark after a couple of 3-pointers, Tabor answered with a 12-4 run over the next five minutes to take a 22-21 lead.

Wesleyan regained the lead at 30-26 with 3:18 to play, but the Bluejays closed the half with a 9-2 run to take a 35-32 halftime lead.

Tabor built its lead on 61 percent shooting, but other aspects of its game-namely rebounding and turnovers-nearly undermined that performance. The Bluejays allowed the Coyotes seven offensive rebounds and committed 13 turnovers.

“They scored 30 of their 32 points off second-chance points and turnovers,” Brubacher said. “They got seven offensive rebounds and scored on every one.

“We scored down low with some consistency and then we’d come down and throw the ball away,” he added. “That hurt us a bunch.”

Only 14 seconds into the second half, Brad Gattis nailed a 3-pointer from the wing, sparking a run that produced a 15-point lead, 51-36, with 14:29 to play. Gattis scored eight of Tabor’s next 10 points.

The lead grew to as many as 18, 60-42, with just over 10 minutes remaining.

But Wesleyan began a slow climb back into contention, thanks in part to their aggressive play and sudden inconsistent play from Tabor.

“We quit moving the ball on the offensive end,” Brubacher said. “They increased the pressure in the passing lane and, instead of changing our approach, we kind of stopped moving.”

Also contributing to KW’s rally was Tabor’s inability to catch a break from the officials, who whistled Tabor for 23 fouls in the contest.

“We had a hard time figuring out how to guard them without the whistle blowing,” Brubacher said. “But we got a lot of stops in the period of time we built our lead, and we looked good defensively in that stretch doing what we needed to do.”

Fortunately for Tabor, the Coyotes converted only five of 13 free throws in the second half and 13 of 27 (48 percent) for the game.

Gattis displayed the skills that earned him All-KCAC honors last season, scoring 21 points. Chris Metcalf added 15 points and Grant Brubacher and Matt Nelson each chipped in 10.

Faubion led KW with 17 points, but scored only two in the second half.

“We kept him away from the basket in the second half,” Brubacher said. “He’s a good player, and if you give him a crack, he’ll beat you.”

The Bluejays made 28 of 50 field-goal attempts (56 percent) while Wesleyan made 22 of 56 (39 percent).

The Coyotes committed 23 turnovers and Tabor 17.

Coming-Tabor travels to Bethel on Thursday before heading to Lindsborg for a game with Bethany next Saturday. Tip-off for those games will be around 8 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.

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