The Tabor College basketball teams started the new year with impressive wins Thursday over Ottawa. The Bluejay women led from start to finish en route to a 66-32 win to improve to 5-0 in KCAC play and 9-6 overall. A strong second half enabled the Tabor men to claim a 75-68 win to improve to 4-1 in the KCAC and 5-9 overall. The Ottawa women dropped to 1-4 and 5-10, and the men to 3-2 and 5-7.
WOMEN – Tabor showed little sign it was their first game back from break, starting the new year with a 10-0 burst on the way to their 24-point victory.
“We got off to a good start,” coach Shawn Reed said of the run. “We missed some opportunities, but it’s always good to start a game off that way, especially the first game back from break—get some of those jitters out, kick some of the cobwebs.”
Janelle Rust led the Tabor attack with 20 points and 14 rebounds for the double-double.
Both teams were plagued by turnovers (18 for Tabor, 21 for Ottawa), but Tabor maintained the lead the duration of the game.
Capitalizing on Ottawa turnovers, Rust contributed six consecutive points to end the first half. Rust laid in two at the 2:22 mark to give Tabor a double-digit 23-12 lead and followed with baskets at 1:24 and 1:16 to push the Bluejay margin to 27-12 at the break.
“We had some really good individual efforts,” Reed said, listing the contributions of Rust, Tynan Honn (10 points, seven rebounds), and Molly Moran (seven points, 3-for-3 from the field).
Tabor continued to add to its lead in the second half. Honn made back-to-back shots off Ottawa turnovers, contributing to a 6-0 run by the Bluejays.
Tabor reached a game-high 28-point lead at the 5:11 mark courtesy of a three-point basket by Rust.
Although plagued by turnovers and missed shots (34 percent shooting in the first half), Tabor’s defense proved the key to the Bluejays’ success.
“I thought our defense was good in both halves, especially the first half,” Reed said. “We held them to 23 percent shooting for the game; that’s always really good. I think when you play good defense and rebound, even if you don’t shoot well, that’ll win you a lot of ball games.”
After improving to 50 percent from the field in the second half, Tabor finished with 40 percent for the night.
While the Bluejays showed positive strides in rebounding, Reed said he’d like to see improvement.
“Rebounding is something we’ve struggled with all year,” he said. “That’s something that we’re constantly working on. It’s gotten better throughout the year, but it’s something that continually needs to be improved upon.”
Eliminating turnovers is also on Reed’s priority list.
MEN – After a shaky first half, Tabor men found their rhythm for a 75-68 come-from-behind victory. The game was the Bluejays’ first post-Christmas break challenge after an Avila University contest Dec. 31 was cancelled.
“We were supposed to play Avila, so I?was hoping to get a lot of the kinks out against Avila,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “So when that game got cancelled, it made me really, really nervous, but I told the guys, ‘It’s like we played two games tonight. You got your Christmas out of the way in the first half. Second half, OK, now we’re back on track, let’s go.’”
Returning to the floor this week for the Bluejays was senior guard Lawson Kingsley, who came off the bench to score a game-high 14 points in his first game since suffering an injury in early November.
After falling behind by four to start the game, Cameron Rust hit a free throw that ignited a 6-0 Tabor run. An Ottawa turnover led to a basket by freshman guard Chance LeBlanc to tie the game at four, and senior guard Ryan Chippeaux cashed in two at the 17:43 mark to give Tabor a 6-4 lead.
It would be the last Tabor lead until just under six and a half minutes remained in the game.
Unable to find offensive rhythm, Tabor posted 12-for-34 shooting (35 percent) in the first half to trail 33-42 at the break. More than half of Tabor’s points came from behind the arc, with five Bluejays contributing 3-point baskets: LeBlanc, Kingsley, Rust, JT Nemit and Justin Malan.
“We played horrible in the first half,” Ratzlaff said. “I just told the guys that, first of all, we’ve got to play as a team offensively. I thought we were taking really quick shots so (the Braves) weren’t having to play defense very long.”
The two teams traded scores to open the second half, but good defensive pressure by the Bluejays forced Ottawa turnovers and ignited a 9-0 surge that brought Tabor within three (51-54) at the 11:21 mark thanks to three-point baskets by Nemit and Kingsley.
With momentum in Tabor’s favor, the Bluejays began to find rhythm, taking advantage of their roster depth.
“We were really having a hard time getting any type of mix, so the rotations were fairly normal, but decent basketball was hard to find until that group hit it about that 12-minute mark in the second half,” Ratzlaff said. “I want our depth to be able to do that, but we almost went a whole game without finding anything. That’s the scary thing about playing a bunch of guys.”
A layup by Marc Hopkinson off the steal at the 7:37 mark brought Tabor to within one at 61-60. Reggie Butler added two with 7:01 remaining, and Robbie Samuel followed with a basket for a 64-63 Tabor lead with 6:22 left on the clock.
The Bluejays never trailed again.
In the end, defense propelled Tabor to the win.
“They got really aggressive on defense, which is nice, and from there, it kind of just carried on over to the rest of our team,” Ratzlaff said. “We just kind of were on attack mode the last 10 minutes. It’s all (about) being focused and being aggressive.”
Ratzlaff praised the leadership displayed by seniors Janzen, Kingsley and Chippeaux.
“These guys, they do it right on the court, they do it right off the court,” he said. “If something needs to be said, they’ll say it, and so they’re a huge complement to me. It makes my job a lot easier, and that’s a big difference for this year’s team, especially with all the freshmen we play.”
In addition to improving shot selection, shooting and rebounding, Ratzlaff highlighted the importance of a strong defense.
“We can improve on absolutely everything, but I think the better and better we get on defense, the better our offense gets because we get layups at times, and that all comes off of our defense,” he said. “We just need to continue to stay active on the defensive end and start from there.”
LeBlanc added 12 points for Tabor, while Chippeaux contributed eight points and 11 rebounds.
Leading the Braves was Adam Hasty with 20 points.