The Bluejays narrowed what had been a seven-point first half deficit to within three, 33-30, at halftime, having shot the ball with 40 percent accuracy (12-for-30), while Indiana Wesleyan made 34 percent of its first-half attempts (11-for-32), including 5-for-14 from three-point range (36 percent).
Julian Winton scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the first half to lead the team, including eight of Tabor’s final 13 points of the half.
Tabor started the second half by making two of its first eight attempts from the field and turning the ball over four times. Indiana Wesleyan took advantage, bursting to a 50-35 lead with 12:43 left in the game.
But fueled by defensive intensity and effort, Tabor embarked on a furious comeback, outscoring the Wildcats, 21-5, over a 6:54 span, taking the lead, 56-55, when DeShun Patterson scored with 3:52 left in the game. Patterson led the charge with 10 points in that stretch to fuel the fire. Julian Winton added eight.
Coach Micah Ratzlaff credited a defensive strategy in switching to a 2-3 zone for helping the Bluejays get stops and fuel the offense.
A back-and-forth battle ensued as the teams traded scores. Tabor took its final lead, 60-59, when Davaghndre Jones scored with 47 seconds left. After that, the Bluejays were called for a foul on a three-point attempt, and the Wildcats made all three charity shots to jump in front, 62-60.
Winton made two free-throws to tie the game at 62 with 27 seconds left, then the Wildcats ran time off the clock before calling timeout with 6 seconds remaining. Tabor was called for a foul with 2 seconds to go, and the Wildcats made both charity shots to regain the lead. Needing to cover the length of the floor, Tabor called a pair of timeouts to draw up one final play, but the Bluejays did not get their final attempt—a miss—off before the final buzzer sounded.
“They’re just really good,” Ratzlaff said of Indiana Wesleyan. “They’re big. They’re super confident. It seems like they’re always on the same page. It feels like they don’t make any mistakes. Everybody on the floor can shoot it. It’s like going against a giant, but we’re all human. (In) the first half, we didn’t play that great, but we played hard, and it was a three-point game. That’s the mentality these guys took once they got here, like, we’re going to play harder than everybody else, and hopefully that will help us compete. It not only helped us compete, but it got us two wins and almost three.”
Winton led all scorers with 23 points. Patterson scored 12. Tabor made 49 percent of its field goal attempts for the game (25-for-51), including a blistering 62 percent in the second half (13-for-21).
For seniors Lance Carter, Jonathan Gibson, Davaghndre Jones, Cody May and Tullio Parry, the game was their final in a Bluejay uniform.
Carter is Tabor’s all-time leading scorer, concluding his career with 1,870 points. His 628 assists is also a program best, while his 843 rebounds ranks second.
“This senior group’s unbelievable,” Ratzlaff said. “They’re all different, but they all work together all the time. They call each other out. They’re really hard on each other. They’re hard on the team, but they all play extremely hard, and they all hate to lose. They all get in the gym outside of practice. What else can you ask for?”
In reflecting on Tabor’s 25-10 season, Ratzlaff said:
“This is the best basketball season of my life, coaching, by far, and a lot of it doesn’t have to just do with the fact that we won two games at nationals. It has to do with the whole team and how much fun they are to be around—not a lot of drama and just a bunch of guys that all want to be around each other. Even at the end of the season, they don’t want it to stop.”
Robert Morris—Tabor advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in 20 years with a second-round victory over the second-seeded Eagles Friday, 88-82.
Tabor held the Eagles to 10 points below their average, limiting a team that entered the tournament averaging more than 10 made three-pointers a game to 8-for-29 shooting from beyond the arc (28 percent).
“We outworked them,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “I do feel that way. We just played harder. We got a lot of the loose balls. We outrebounded them when they are twice our size. We held them to 37 percent from the field, and they only hit eight threes.
“Guys are buying in and they’re playing together and they’re playing tough. You’ve got to play tough, and they believe.”
Neither team shot the ball well at the start, as Robert Morris made one of its first nine attempts and Tabor, one of its first six. Robert Morris tied its biggest lead at 13-11, but from there, DeShun Patterson contributed to an 8-1 run that put Tabor in front, 19-14.
When Kyle Baker hit a triple at the 7:09 mark—Tabor’s fourth of the game—the Bluejays led, 28-20. However, the Eagles embarked on a 17-7 run over the next 4:47, capping it with a game-tying dunk with 2:22 left in the half. But Tabor used a 10-2 run to end the half with a 47-39 lead.
The Bluejays enjoyed their largest advantage, 59-46, after Lance Carter grabbed a rebound and went coast to coast for a score with 12:07 left.
But with Tabor in foul trouble and unable to score, the Eagles embarked on an 11-0 run to close the gap to two, 59-57. Robert Morris later took the lead, 66-65, with 6:55 to play.
A 6-0 effort fueled by four points from Tullio Parry put Tabor in front for good. The Eagles scored after that to close within three, but that was as close as Robert Morris came, and a 9-3 Tabor run put the Bluejays in front by nine with 1:53 to go. The Eagles closed within four a few times, the final at 82-78 with 1:02 remaining. In the final 49 seconds, Tabor made six of 10 free-throws to nail down the six-point win.
The Bluejays made 47 percent of their attempts from the field (27-for-58). Robert Morris made 38 percent (30-for-80).
Two Bluejays had double-double performances. Carter scored 24 points to go with his 10 rebounds, while Parry scored 13 points and had 10 rebounds. Patterson scored 21 points, and Davaghndre Jones and Julian Winton 10 each.
Davenport—Tabor broke a three-year, first-round losing streak by defeating the third-seeded Panthers Thursday, 78-70.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “Last year was so disappointing, and it’s like, is that really going to happen again? But everything this whole week, and even this whole year, has been different. Two or three guys came up to me at different times this week and said, ‘Coach, this is a lot different than last year. Guys are really focused.’”
The Bluejays limited the Panthers to nearly 14 points below their average.
“The harder we played on defense, the better we played on offense,” Ratzlaff said. “We missed shots, but they played two or three different zones, they played us man-to-man. I just felt like we outworked them. They were really, really tired at halftime. But it was really scary going into that second half because we felt like we played so well and we were only up seven. For us to come out again in the second half like that, that felt good.”
Tabor pushed the tempo from the start, bursting to a 10-0 lead on 3-for-3 shooting, including a pair of threes courtesy of Julian Winton and Alan Urrutia, while holding the Panthers scoreless for nearly three minutes. However, a 16-6 Davenport swing after that tied the game.
DeShun Patterson capped a 7-0 run with an alley-oop dunk assisted by Lance Carter to put Tabor in front, 23-16, and the Bluejays took their first double-digit margin, 32-20, after Cody May drained a three with 4:40 left in the half. The Panthers trimmed that margin to seven by intermission, 36-29.
The Panthers made a run after the break, cutting Tabor’s lead to four, 36-32, and later, to three, 41-38.
The Bluejays, however, continued to push the pace, many times beating Davenport down the court, and retook a double-digit, 51-40, lead when Patterson scored at the 14:18 mark. Again, the Panthers closed within four, 59-55, but Carter contributed five points to a 6-0 run that put Tabor in front by 10.
Davenport narrowed the gap to four one final time, 71-67, with 3:33 to play, but again Tabor answered, this time with Tullio Parry adding four points to a 6-0 run to again stretch Tabor’s lead to 10 with 48 seconds to go. In the end, Tabor achieved an eight-point victory.
Carter led all scorers with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Winton and Parry each scored 17.
“It’s fun to see the talent here,” Ratzlaff said. “Knowing that we can compete with it is awesome.”