ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW OTTOSON
Despite freezing temperatures, the Tabor College men’s basketball team hotly contested its games against Bethel and Bethany last week.
Unfortunately, their conference foes ran away with both games in the final minutes of play.
“It has been a difficult stretch for us lately,” coach Don Brubacher said. “I hope we can respond with greater focus and energy, but it has been a really discouraging time.”
A significant factor has been the absence of a true center on the roster since the departure of Donald Dowl at the end of the fall semester.
“We’ve been trying everything we can think of to make up for our lack of a true big man,” Brubacher said. “It has a rather large impact on every aspect of the game.”
In recent games, Tabor has used Mike Willis closer to the basket and brought in a smaller guard to play the wing position Willis had been playing.
“(Willis) is more effective offensively and has, for the most part, done a good job defensively when we’ve used him at the four (power forward) or five (center) spot,” Brubacher said.
“It puts a smaller player than we’d like at the wing position, and as a team that contributes to our rebounding struggles…even though Mike has caught a number of rebounds in those games,” he added.
Bethel-The Threshers came to Hillsboro on Saturday and defeated the home team 80-69. But the game was closer than the final score.
“We executed our offense better and shot the ball better than we had,” Brubacher said. “But we did not perform on the defensive end.”
The Bluejays took a 37-36 lead into halftime. Then, 4:28 into the second period, Andy Brubacher fired a long jumper from the left wing and the 3-pointer gave Tabor a 49-46 advantage.
Kent Peters, a senior guard from Goessel, dueled Brubacher to a standstill over the next 10:36.
With 4:56 to go in the second half, Greg Munroe soared over a Thresher forward and threw down a massive dunk that ignited the home crowd and tied the game at 64.
But 23 seconds later, a foul sent Bethel’s Owen Kindall to the line, where the forward made a tide-turning pair of free throws. On the Theshers’ next possession, Ricky Snyder buried a 3-pointer.
“We could not find a defensive stop to give us a chance to win. We had one little lull offensively down the stretch, and the game got away from us,” Brubacher said.
Bethel closed the game with a 16-5 run.
Peters paced the Threshers with 16 points. Three others players scored double figures: Hillsboro native Tyler Peachey (14), Snyder (13) and Todd Rambo (11).
Tabor also had four in double-digits. Brubacher, who was shut out on Thursday, had a game-high 19, followed by Mike Willis (16), Munroe (14) and Tyler Weinbrenner (10).
Willis also had 10 rebounds in a double-double effort.
Bethel swept the season series, having defended its home court with a 69-60 win Nov. 30.
Bethany-Tabor traveled to Lindsborg on Thursday and took the Swedes to overtime before falling 76-72.
“We did a reasonably good job defensively against Bethany, but we couldn’t find offense anywhere,” coach Don Brubacher said. “We lost because of a lack of offensive production.”
The Swedes opened play with a 6-3 run, but Mike Willis scored the next four points to give Tabor a 7-6 lead, its first of the night, at 14:39.
Bethany regained the advantage 11 seconds later, but the Bluejays kept the game close.
Greg Munroe scored a 2-pointer that tied the game at 12 with 11:01 left in the opening half. Eric Weinbrenner connected on a 3-point shot that tied it at 16 3:12 later.
The Swedes scored 2-pointers 13 seconds apart for a 20-16 lead. The burst grew into a 13-5 run that gave Bethany a 26-18 lead with 3:54 to play in the first half.
But the rest of the period belonged to the Bluejays, and Willis sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Tabor a 28-27 halftime lead.
The second half saw the score tied nine times. Tyler Weinbrenner hit a 3-pointer that tied the game at 15:17, and Eric Weinbrenner hit a 2-pointer to tied it again on the next possession.
Bethany re-tied the game with a 3-point shot at 13:12 and took a 45-43 lead 1:12 after that.
And so it went on, back and forth, neither team with a lead bigger than one possession, until Swede guard Marcus Wells untied the game with consecutive 3-pointers and gave Bethany a 60-54 lead with 4:14 to go.
But Tyler Weinbrenner hit three 3-pointers in the final 3:05, the first of which evened the game at 60.
Bethany scored consecutive 2-point shots for a 64-60 lead with 2:23.
But the Bluejay defense stiffened, and Weinbrenner’s hot hand brought the visitors within one.
Then, with the Bethany defense applying pressure, Weinbrenner banked in his third 3-point shot with 0:44 to play and gave Tabor a 66-64 lead.
But the lead was short-lived, as Austan Wyatt hit a layup at the other end to tie the game with 0:27 to go.
Bethany opened the overtime with a 6-2 run, and Tabor bounced back to tie the game at 72 with 49 seconds to go.
But Bethany’s Brandon Krinhop scored what would be the game-winning shot with 35 seconds left.
Down by two and with one chance left, the Bluejays called Andy Brubacher’s number, but his shot did not fall and the senior guard finished 0-for-8 from the field.
Mike Stoecker fouled out with 8.9 seconds left, and the game ended with Bethany shooting free throws.
Brubacher was keen to emphasize rebounding: “We continue to struggle without a strong, dominant center to catch a lot of rebounds for us. It’s a huge factor.”
“We were outrebounded by 12 in the second half, and that margin equated to 12 points.”
Coming-Tabor (4-6) travels to McPherson (5-5) on Thursday for an 8 p.m. matchup against the Bulldogs.
On Saturday, the Bluejays welcome the University of Saint Mary to Hillsboro for an 8 p.m. contest.
In the previous meetings this season, Tabor defeated the Bulldogs 73-64 in Hillsboro and edged the Spires (0-8) by a point on their home floor, 74-73.