ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Ottawa’s Bret Lickteig scored 23 points and hauled in 15 rebounds to lead the Braves to a 72-58 win over Tabor College Saturday in Ottawa.
For Tabor, it was an all-too-familiar scenario down the stretch. The Bluejays were positioned to win, trailing by only four points with two minutes to play, but faltered in the end.
“We played harder (than Thursday in McPherson), but we just made too many mistakes, had too many missed opportunities on offense and had too many blown responsibilities on the defensive end,” coach Don Brubacher said.
Both teams entered Saturday’s game with identical 8-5 KCAC records and battling for second place in the conference.
In the first half, they seemed to be on equal footing on the court as well with five ties and six lead changes in the first 20 minutes.
Tabor trailed 31-27 with under a minute to play when Andy Brubacher converted a 3-pointer sending the game to halftime with Ottawa nursing a 31-30 lead.
But moments into the second half, Ottawa built a 48-38 lead behind the play of Lickteig, an All-KCAC performer last season.
In desperate need of offense, Tabor turned to its All-KCAC tandem of Grant Brubacher and Brad Gattis.
Slicing the lead to 51-46 behind their scoring, Tabor inched even closer when Jason Dechant hit a 3-point basket-one of his four for the night-to pull Tabor within 51-49 with 5:39 to play.
Just as quickly, Ottawa reconstructed its double-digit lead at 59-49 at the 4:16 mark, leaving the Bluejays another uphill climb.
But Tabor began that ascent, as Grant Brubacher hit a pair of baskets, Gattis added one and Dechant hit another 3-pointer to draw Tabor to within 61-57 with 1:50 to play.
But Ottawa converted nine of 10 free throws down the stretch and Steven VanArsdale put the exclamation point on the Braves’ win with a thunderous two-handed dunk as Ottawa won going away.
Grant Brubacher led Tabor with 20 points.
“He felt better than he did at McPherson and really asserted himself tonight and helped us a great deal,” coach Brubacher said. “But it’s really frustrating to watch him play with his arm being grabbed constantly.”
Dechant added 13 points and Gattis 11 as the Bluejays struggled from the field, hitting 22 of 64 shots (34 percent), including nine of 31 (29 percent) from 3-point land.
Lickteig led the Braves with 23 as Ottawa made 23 of 55 shots from the field (42 percent) and six of 18 (33 percent) from the 3-point line.
Tabor made only nine trips to the free-throw stripe, hitting five while Ottawa converted 20 of 27 chances (74 percent).
Tabor was out-rebounded 47-34; Tyler Weinbrenner led Tabor with six boards.
With its fourth loss in five games, Tabor fell to 11-12 overall and 8-6 in conference play while Ottawa moved into second place with a 9-5 record in the KCAC and 10-14 overall.
McPherson-For about six minutes of the first half of Thursday’s Tabor-McPherson basketball game, the Bluejay men looked like defending KCAC champions.
Unfortunately the other 34 minutes revealed Tabor’s recent inability to score consistently as the Bluejays dropped a 68-57 decision.
“We were outhustled from beginning to end,” a disgruntled coach Don Brubacher said. “We were not intent on what was happening on the court.”
Things didn’t begin badly for Tabor, though, as the Bluejays built an early 7-2 lead. The game was still tied at 11 with 14:20 to play.
But over the next eight minutes, McPherson drained three 3-pointers in a 21-6 run and built a 32-17 lead with 6:35 left in the first half.
Just as quickly, though, Tabor’s fortunes turned surprisingly sweet. Riding the broad shoulders of Brad Gattis, who dropped in 13 first half points, the Bluejays counter-punched McPherson with a 17-3 run, slicing the Bulldog lead to 35-34 by halftime.
Brubacher said Tabor’s surge was easily explained.
“All of a sudden, we got lively,” he said. “And we didn’t make big mistakes defensively.”
But Tabor’s dream of a road victory turned into a nightmare as the second half got under way.
McPherson sat back in a sagging zone defense in an effort to stop Gattis, daring the Bluejays to beat them from the outside.
The strategy worked. The Bluejay guards fired mostly blanks-a combined 0-for-10 from from behind the arc in the second half-allowing the Bulldogs to the pack lane with their zone.
“We were left with nothing,” Brubacher said. “There are ways to attack the zone, and we did it a few times. But we simply don’t have the determination to do that with any consistency.”
Even with their inconsistency, Tabor was still within five points at 50-45 with 10:37 remaining.
But down the stretch, McPherson took over, nailing back-to-back 3-pointers with around five minutes to play and holding Tabor at bay from the free throw line. McPherson earned its final six points at the stripe.
Gattis led Tabor with 20 points and Jared Reese added 10. After hitting nearly 54 percent from the field in the first half, Tabor made nine of 30 (30 percent) in the second half, including four of 17 from behind the 3-point line (23 percent).
McPherson was equally inept, hitting 37 percent (21-57) overall but made nine of 21 (43 percent) from 3-point land.
Tabor made only five of 13 free throws (38 percent) while McPherson hit 17 of 24 (71 percent).
Coming-Tabor returns home Thursday to host Friends, then heads to Salina on Saturday to battle Kansas Wesleyan.