ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor College men once again found themselves at the bottom of a 16-point hole Saturday day night in Lindsborg.
Unlike previous games, in which Tabor crawled out of the crevasse, the Bluejays came one step short in a 69-68 loss to Bethany College.
Coach Don Brubacher said it was an all-too familiar situation with his team, although he applauded their effort.
“We have a tendency to bring out our best effort when things are looking rather hopeless, and we hope we can get a stronger effort when the game is not in such jeopardy,” he said. “But we really played hard and I’m proud of our effort.”
In a game that sometimes resembled a street brawl because of the physical play allowed, Bethany carried a big stick better in 6-foot-8, 250-pound Daniel Sherman.
The big man was allowed to push and shove all evening; miraculously, he wasn’t assessed a personal foul until five minutes had elapsed in the second half.
Needing a win to maintain its share of the KCAC lead, Tabor faced a talented Bethany squad capable of scoring points in bunches. But the Bluejay defense was up to the challenge.
After trailing early by five points, Tabor came back to take a three-point lead on a Jared Reese basket with 7:53 left in the half.
But the rest of the half belonged to the Swedes and Sherman as Bethany raced to a 36-28 halftime lead behind Sherman’s 10 points.
“We allowed them to play to their strengths on the offensive end,” Brubacher said. “We didn’t do a good job of at least limiting their offensive strengths because their best shooters were shooting the ball and we allowed them to get space inside.”
Tabor’s deficit increased early in the second stanza when the Swedes built a 16-point margin, 47-31, on Ben Zuker’s hoop with 16:02 remaining.
“On our offensive end, we just had a complete break down again,” Brubacher said. “When we did execute, we shot the ball poorly.”
Fortunately for the Bluejays, the offense suddenly began executing and shots that fell off the rim earlier began falling through.
The result was a 9-0 run, including five points by Grant Brubacher, to cut Bethany’s lead to 47-40 with 14:08 to play.
Bethany righted the ship momentarily and still held a nine point lead, 53-44, with 11:17 left.
But another rally by Tabor cut the lead to three at 53-50 with 7:39 to play on baskets by Chris Metcalf and Matt Nelson.
“We began limiting (Bethany) on offense and our offense executed better,” Brubacher said. “And we finished when we did execute.”
Suddenly a game where the outcome seemed obvious minutes earlier had fans on the edge of their seats.
Tabor’s assent up the deficit was complete with 1:47 to play when Nelson hit a free throw to tie the game at 62.
Brubacher said his team showed poise and determination in their quest for the lead.
“I think it was a really good effort on our part,” he said. “I don’t fault our effort at all.”
But Bethany scored the next four points and still led at 69-65 with five seconds to play.
Grant Brubacher’s 35-foot prayer was answered in the final second to cut the lead to a single point, but Bethany inbounded the ball as the clock expired.
Brubacher was sensational in the loss, pouring in 24 points-15 in the second half-on 7-for-10 shooting from the field and 7-for-8 from the free-throw line.
“Grant really did a great job tonight, yet I’m sure he’s sitting in the locker room right now kicking himself for the shots that didn’t go in,” Coach Brubacher said. “But he did a good job of keeping us in the game.”
Metcalf added 10 points for Tabor, who hit 43 percent from the field (23-53) and 16 of 18 from the line.
Sherman led Bethany with 17 points and seven rebounds.
The Swedes hit 47 percent from the floor (23-49) including seven of 18 (39 percent) from behind the 3-point line.
Brubacher said the loss, while disappointing, was a character test for his team.
“We had a lot of things go against us tonight,” he said. “It took a really strong mental effort on our part just to be willing to battle all the circumstances.”
With the loss, Tabor fell a game behind Southwestern in the KCAC with a 7-3 conference mark while falling to 10-9 overall. Bethany improved to 6-4 and 12-8.
Bethel-With Southwestern’s loss to Sterling the previous night, Tabor needed a win over rival Bethel College on Thursday to jump into a tie for the conference lead at the midway point on the KCAC schedule.
The Bluejays shot just well enough, defended just well enough and committed only 11 turnovers to leave North Newton with a 60-56 victory.
Coach Don Brubacher relished the win but said his team is far from where it needs to be.
“If this team is going to be as good as it can get, it needs to make steady progress in its game,” he said. “Tonight we showed some really positive signs at times and we also showed some really negative signs at other times.
“But it’s certainly nice to get a win over a good team on the road, there’s no question about that.”
Brad Gattis scored Tabor’s first seven points, but the game remained tight-as evidenced by five first-half ties, the last one at 19 with just over 10 minutes left.
With Tabor leading 22-21, Bethel reeled off five straight points to grab a 26-22 lead at the 6:22 mark. But they didn’t score again until the second half.
Tabor, on the other hand, got five points from Matt Nelson and two from Pat Miller to lead, 29-26.
Gattis followed with a steal and a full-court drive for a layup to boost the lead to 31-26.
Andy Brubacher’s layup in the final 30 seconds gave Tabor a 33-26 halftime lead.
“Early on we rushed a lot of shots and tried to make low percentage offensive opportunities work and it all went against us,” Coach Brubacher said. “But in that six-minute stretch, we actually caught some defensive rebounds, which was the usual gigantic issue for us in many stretches of this game.
“But it allowed us to play hard and execute on both ends of the court.”
Tabor scored the first three points of the second half to cap a 14-0 run and build the game’s first double-digit lead at 36-26.
The lead grew to 12 points, but center Chris Metcalf had to be helped from the court after rolling his ankle on a rebound.
The outcome looked bleaker when Miller picked up his fourth foul at the 12:17 mark, but Tabor still led 43-31.
Bethel whittled four points off the lead with 10:38 to play, but the Bluejays responded with a 6-0 run to push the lead back to 49-35 with 6:56 remaining.
The lead grew to 16 points before the Threshers made one last push. A 3-point bucket by Regehr sliced the Bluejay lead to 59-52 with 1:09 remaining.
“We made some really big defensive mistakes and Bethel did a good job of taking advantage of them,” Brubacher said. “In my judgement we really went to sleep on offense. We were just going through the motions, hoping somehow something miraculous would happen. It didn’t, so we ended up without many offensive opportunities.”
Tabor’s lead shrank to three points with 19 seconds to play, but Andy Brubacher hit the second of two free throws to give Tabor its 10th win of the season.
Grant Brubacher led Tabor with 13 points and Gattis added 11, all in the first half.
Regehr took game honors with 19 points.
Tabor hit 44 percent from the field (22-50) while Bethel was 19 of 55 (36 percent). Tabor sank four of 10 (40 percent) 3-point tries while Bethel hit five of 17 (29 percent).
Coming- Tabor will learn a lot about its title hopes this week when Sterling and Southwestern come to Tabor Gymnasium on Thursday and Saturday. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.