ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Riding a wave of confidence after two road victories in the opening rounds of the KCAC post-season tournament, the Tabor College men strolled into Southwestern University’s Stewart Fieldhouse Tuesday night with everything to gain and nothing to lose.
But when the final horn sounded, the 11th-ranked Moundbuilders had earned the tournament championship to go along with their regular-season title with a 73-67 victory.
Tabor finished with the disappointment of a season-ending loss but the satisfaction competing hard to the bitter end and making its head coach proud.
“We didn’t give up at all-it was just a great effort by our guys,” coach Don Brubacher said. “We just didn’t have quite enough of what it took in this game to end up on top.”
Maintaining a “We against the world” attitude, the Bluejays raced to a 12-5 lead on a pair of Brad Gattis field goals and 3-point hoops by Grant Brubacher and Tyler Weinbrenner.
But the Builders bounced back to tie the game at 15 with 12:10 left in the half and quickly established a 24-18 lead moments later, thanks in large part to their work on the offensive glass.
“To some extent, the physical aspect of the game hurt us, but some of their offensive rebounds were entirely clean,” Brubacher said. “They got good position and the ball bounced in their direction.
“Other offensive rebounds we had inside position and couldn’t win the physical battle fighting for the ball.”
Even so, Tabor tied the score at 35 with only 39 seconds left in the half, thanks to a 3-point bomb by Andy Brubacher.
Although K.J. Wilkens answered with a 3-point shot to end the half, Tabor seemed to be weathering the Southwestern rebounding storm. The Builders grabbed 24 rebounds-seven on the offensive end-resulting in a 12-0 dominance in second-chance points.
After Tabor’s Pat Miller scored the first hoop of the second half, Southwestern scored the next five points. But the Bluejays refused to go away. A 3-point basket by Jason Dechant with 14:27 left cut the lead to 50-48.
But as the game progressed, so did the physical style of play. High screens that scraped off Tabor defenders-often onto the floor-allowed Wilkens to nail six 3-pointers.
On Tabor’s end, the officials allowed the same contact, but it was the Bluejay shooters who were on the receiving end.
But Tabor did not get to the free-throw line and was forced to fire long range salvos.
“We shot eight free throws and, the way the game was played, the whistles didn’t blow when we took the ball strong to the rim,” Brubacher said.
“We’re like any other team-if we’re denied the opportunity or ability to get the ball to the basket, we relied on shooting the ball from the perimeter.”
And shoot they did-34 attempts from beyond the 3-point line with 11 hitting the mark.
Tabor’s most accurate long-range launcher was Andy Brubacher, who drained six of 10.
The Bluejays were still within four points at 61-57 with just under six minutes to play, but Southwestern staved off Tabor’s upset bid.
Andy Brubacher led Tabor with 18 points, Grant Brubacher added 11 and Brad Gattis 10. Wilkens led the Builders with 22.
Tabor shot 25-for-64 from the field (39 percent), including 32 percent from behind the arc. Southwestern made 26 of 56 (46 percent) from the field, including nine of 22 3-pointers (41 percent).
Tabor made six of eight free throws while Southwestern made 12 of 15.
Southwestern out-rebounding Tabor, 42-31; Jared Reese led the Bluejays with six.
The loss ended Tabor’s season with a 15-15 record while Southwestern improved to 28-3 heading into the national tournament.