ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
When you’re fighting a bear, you better carry a big stick. Unfortunately, the Tabor College men were reduced to taking on 14th-ranked Southwestern Saturday with not much more than a twig.
With center Chris Metcalf missing the showdown for the KCAC lead because of illness, Tabor’s forces were further weakened when Metcalf’s replacement, Pat Miller, was limited to seven minutes due to foul difficulties.
The result was a 70-57 loss, dropping Tabor two full games behind Southwestern in the KCAC race.
“We had to go past our No. 1 and No. 2 five-spot players and we actually played most of the game without either of them on the court,” coach Don Brubacher said. “We needed Pat to play 25 minutes or more and instead he played just over seven minutes and fouled out. That just makes the game really difficult for us.”
Southwestern scored the game’s first four points and never trailed, building a lead as big as 14 points in the first half.
“Early in the game we did a very poor job defensively,” Brubacher said. “In my judgment, we started the game with not as good team defensive effort at all. We gave up a ton of points early on and then were playing from behind the entire contest.”
By halftime, Tabor trailed 37-23.
Compounding the Bluejays’ tribulations was poor shooting, as Tabor connected on eight of 25 field-goal attempts, including an 0-for-7 showing behind the arc.
Foul difficulties forced Brubacher to use 12 players in the first half.
“We had to play with completely different lineups and had to adapt to completely different roles,” Brubacher said. “That makes it a huge challenge.”
That challenge continued in the opening minutes of the second half when Southwestern built a 39-24 lead with 18:26 remaining.
But over the course of the next 10 minutes, the Bluejays energized the near capacity crowd on “Church Spirit Night.”
On the strength of Brad Gattis’s inside work and a 3-point bomb by Grant Brubacher, Tabor sliced the Builder lead to 49-46 with 8:36 to play.
“We did a good job of coming back,” Brubacher said. “We made an extraordinary effort in that stretch, but we started out very badly and put ourselves in a deep hole.”
Southwestern hasn’t compiled a 20-2 record without battling adversity of its own. Back-to-back 3-point baskets by Ricky Kendrick within a minute of each other escalated the lead back to nine at 55-46.
Brubacher said his team’s defense wasn’t to blame.
“The first (3-point basket) we made a defensive mistake, but we didn’t make a mistake on the second one,” he said. “One of their people tackled our wing-literally tackled him. When Andy (Brubacher) fought through the hold, he actually chucked him sideways and knocked him completely out of the play.
“It’s about as flagrant and ridiculous a play as any human being can ever make, but it was not detected,” he added. “It was an absolutely ridiculous play, and when that second 3-point shot went in, that was essentially the ball game.”
As it turned out, Tabor couldn’t slice into Southwestern’s lead, eventually falling by 17 points.
As in several Tabor losses, poor shooting was a problem. Tabor hit three of 23 3-point attempts, 21 of 60 shots overall (35 percent) and 12 of 29 free throws (41 percent).
“We shot the ball really badly again tonight,” Brubacher said. “We had some uncontested looks from the 3-point line and we just couldn’t make a shot.”
Gattis led Tabor with 18 points, followed by Jared Reese with 13 and Matt Nelson 12.
Kendrick led the Builders with 19, although Southwestern made only 22 of 60 (37 percent) shots from the field, but made eight of 23 (35 percent) 3-point attempts.
The Builders were equally inept from the foul line, sinking 18 of 44 (41 percent).
Due to its lack of post players, Tabor was brutalized on the glass, 60-42.
“We battled and made a good effort, but against a good team, you can’t spot them 10 or 12 points and figure you can make it up,” Brubacher said. “You have to play from the opening whistle if you expect to have a chance and we did not do that.”
With the loss, Tabor fell to 11-10 overall and 8-4 in the KCAC while Southwestern goes to 20-2 and 10-2.
Sterling-When Tabor defeated Sterling Dec. 3, the Bluejays’ defense limited the Warriors to 37 percent field-goal shooting.
The Bluejays did it again Thursday, this time in Hillsboro, holding the athletic Warriors to 34 percent shooting as Tabor captured a 59-52 victory.
“When we win against the better teams in the conference, we usually do a very good job defensively,” coach Don Brubacher said. “We did a good job defensively in the first half and an even better job in the second half.”
As usual, the Tabor-Sterling matchup provided plenty of bumps and bruises as both teams tried to establish control.
The Warriors used a strong surge down the stretch to equal their largest lead of the first half and enter the locker room with a 33-25 advantage.
The Bluejays made nearly 53 percent of their first-half shots (11-21), but 10 turnovers led to 10 Warrior points and Sterling held a 9-2 advantage on second-chance points. Adding to the hometown woes was a pitiful 2-for-9 performance at the free throw line.
After Sterling scored the first hoop of the second half, Tabor reeled off a 22-5 run over the next 12 minutes. Sterling was lucky to get off a shot, much less make one.
“We got the ball to the basket better a number of times to turn the game around,” Brubacher said about the run. “We simply moved quicker and executed better on our offensive end.”
Brubacher said his team’s defense was primarily responsible for the Warriors’ woes.
“When we run our zone (defense) really well, and we really are executing well, we don’t give up the uncontested 3-point shot, and we did have quite a few possessions where we did a good job of contesting that open look,” he said.
With Tabor ahead 47-41 and 6:57 to play, Sterling made back-to-back 3-pointers by Trey Peters to tie the score at 47 at the 5:32 mark.
Tabor’s Brad Gattis responded with a field goal and Tyler Weinbrenner nailed a 3-pointer to push the lead back to five, 52-47, with 4:18 to play.
Three free throws from Andy Brubacher and two each from Matt Nelson and Chris Metcalf down the stretch helped the Bluejays nail down the win.
Gattis led Tabor with 20 points while Grant Brubacher added 10 points, five rebounds and three assists. Peters scored 18 points to lead Sterling.
Tabor hit 20 of 44 shots from the field (46 percent) but limited Sterling to 22 percent (7-32) in the second half and 34 percent (20-59) for the game. They jacked up 30 3-pointers and hit eight.
Tabor also held an advantage at the free-throw line, hitting 16 of 27 (59 percent) while the Warriors made four of seven (57 percent).
Tabor also trimmed its turnover total to five in the second half to finish with 15.
“That was absolutely huge,” Brubacher. “But we’re still struggling with that aspect of our game. It’s mental and not physical adjustments that need to be made. I just hope we can get better.”
Coming-Tabor hits the KCAC road with games at McPherson and Ottawa this week.