Bluejays come up just short in NAIA first round

Lance Carter drives to the basket during the second half of Tabor?s first-round game against Indiana University Southeast in the 2014 NAIA Division II Men?s Basketball National Championship. Carter led all scorers with 19 points in Tabor?s 77-75 loss to the Grenadiers.The Tabor College men’s basketball team came two points short of upsetting top-seeded and third-ranked Indiana University Southeast in the first round of the 2014 NAIA Division II Men?s basketball national championship Thursday night.

When the final buzzer sounded, Tabor trailed, 77-75.

Just how close were the Bluejays to getting the upset?

Tabor held a 75-70 lead over the Grenadiers with just 1:48 to play, but IU Southeast burst to the finish with seven unanswered points.

The Bluejays, however, were not without opportunity to score.

Leading 75-72, Tabor missed shots on two consecutive possessions. The Grenadiers came away with the ball both times, and both times, Tabor fouled IU Southeast?s Kevin Mitchell, who tied the game at 75 by making three of four free throws.

Tabor turned the ball over on its next trip down the court and fouled Aishon White, who made two free throws to put the Grenadiers in front with just 16 seconds to play.

With an opportunity for the Bluejays to tie the game or take the lead, a shot by Dewayne Biggs missed its mark. D?Marco Smith grabbed the rebound, but his attempt at the buzzer came up empty, too.

?We got an OK look,? coach Micah Ratzlaff said of Tabor?s last possession. ?We got stuck in the mud the last couple of minutes, probably the way (IU Southeast) felt for about six or seven or eight minutes.

?We?ve had these games for the last month it feels like, and we?ve come out on top. I wouldn?t say we ran out of gas, we just didn?t get it done, didn?t execute.?

In the loss, Tabor held the Grenadiers to 77 points, nearly 19 points below their average scoring total of 95.9 points per game.

The game was a fast-paced one, and neither team ever established a double-digit margin.

After Tabor took an early 3-0 lead, the Grenadiers claimed it with a 9-2 run.

But when Grenadier shots missed their mark and Carter and Nick Sauer drained two three-pointers in a span of 1:26, the Bluejays had regained the advantage, 13-11.

IU Southeast responded with six unanswered points before Tabor tied the game at 17 after baskets by Carter and Samuel and built its largest lead of the half, 25-21, when Andrew Thomas scored.

IU Southeast?s leading scorer, Greg Magee, scored the Grenadiers? next six points to lock the teams at 27. From there, IU Southeast enjoyed a 9-1 run.

The teams traded scores to end the half, with the Grenadiers? holding a 43-36 advantage.

Tabor shot 35.5 percent from the field in the first half (11-31), including 28.6 percent from three (2-7). The Grenadiers, meanwhile, shot 38.9 percent from the field (14-36) and 38.5 percent from three (5-13).

After the teams traded scores to start the second half, Tabor trimmed the Grenadiers? lead to 49-47 when Thomas sandwiched a Smith bucket with two scores of his own, including a three-point play.

Carter scored 10 of Tabor?s next 14 points, then Biggs tied the game at 64 with a three-point basket with 7:51 to go.

Biggs hit another three, and with the Bluejay defense forcing turnovers, Tabor built a 74-69 lead with 2:28 to play. Each team chipped in a free throw, which set up the final 1:48.

Tabor concluded the evening shooting 41.7 percent from the field (25-60), including 35.7 percent from three (5-14). The Grenadiers shot 40 percent from the field (24-60) and 23.8 percent from three (5-21).

Carter led all scorers with 19 points. Thomas, Smith and Samuel each added 11.

Five Grenadiers scored in double figures: Magee 18, Kevin Mitchell 17, White 12, Cameron Mitchell 11, Vernon Payne 10.

Ratzlaff spoke well of his team and their progress this season.

?I?d lose with this team before I?d win with another,? he said. ?I really love this team. We?ve been through a lot this year.

?This group has stuck together and we got better and made a run to get here. We competed with one of the top teams here, and we?ll try and build on that next year.?

With the loss, Tabor concluded the season with a 20-13 record.This was Tabor?s eighth appearance in the championships, and first since 2005.

IU Southeast, meanwhile, was making its 10th appearance. The Grena?diers went on to lose to No. 5 Robert Morris, 71-66, in the second round.

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