Physical defense and Bulldog guard Brandon Cameron’s 14 second half points sparked a McPherson rally that kept the outcome in doubt until the final seconds.
With the outcome all but certain after Vanselow’s dunk, McPherson forward Antowine Lamb was called for a technical foul with two seconds left?and Vanselow buried both free throws to finish with 23 points.
But until that point, the hard-charging Bulldogs threatened to take control of a game that Tabor led by as much as 20 points.
McPherson closed a 38-18 deficit to 38-22 at halftime, and closed within 48-40 midway through the second half despite back-to-back blocked shots by Orson Thomas.
Bulldogs forward Mike Reece hit a layup-and-1 to cut Tabor’s lead to seven, and Jared Underwood cut it to six with a 3-pointer with just over eight minutes to go.
Dwayne Thomas made it a 4-point game with a 2-pointer, but Kroeker answered with a 3-pointer over Underwood to stabilize the situation for Tabor.
A moment later Micah Hiett restored the Bluejays lead to 12 with a trey from nearly the same exact spot?the deep right wing corner?despite Dwayne Thomas’ defensive close out.
McPherson rallied at the free throw line, pulling within seven on Reece’s foul shots with 3:15 left. Cameron knocked down a 2-pointer, and the Bulldogs? press forced an ugly turnover on Tabor’s ensuing inbounds, and McPherson turned full-court defense rapidly into points, as Cameron made it 67-65 with 15 seconds left.
Then, with McPherson pressure causing chaos in the Bluejays backcourt, Kroeker spotted Vanselow running unchecked near the time line. Vanselow took Kroeker’s pass near the center circle, took several dribbles, shrugged off a defender running in his hip pocket, and threw down the clinching dunk. He was named KCAC ?player of the week? on Monday.
?Our press break, like most press breaks, is designed to spread the floor,? Ratzlaff said. ?Zach was at half court and his man left to pressure the guard so he took off and we threw him the ball. The crazy thing is that they were trying to foul him the entire way to the basket.?
While Vanselow’s finisher brought the loudest cheers, and while Kroeker (with 15) was the only other Bluejay to score double-digits, nearly the entire varsity squad had tangibly contributed to the win. Twelve players powered Tabor?s highest-energy effort of the season, ten players scored and the Bluejay defense trimmed nine points from McPherson’s season average output.
?We struggled at times in the second half, but McPherson is a good basketball team and we knew they were not going to give up or just lay down at half time,? Ratzlaff said. ?Bottom line is that we played hard and aggressive for 40 minutes, we kept our cool when we were frustrated, and we played together with intensity.?
Bethany?After five lead changes, Tabor emerged from the first half holding a 35-28 lead, and the Bluejay defense built that lead to 53-40 midway through the second half.
?We contested shots and rebounded, which kept us in the lead even when our offense was struggling,? Ratzlaff said. ?We didn’t care how we got this win, we just knew that we needed to get back on track after a rough week before. I’m proud of my guys for the way they responded.?
Damon Dechant sparked the Bluejays offense with three “and-1” free throws and five rebounds in the first half. In the second half, Dechant completed his third double-double (19 points, 13 rebounds) of the season, but also emphatically blocked two shots as the Tabor defense limited Bethany to 7-for-36 from the field after halftime.
The Bluejays were particularly hawkish against the 3-point shot, holding Bethany to 4-for-21 from distance for the game.
Dechant scored nine points during a key 4:25 stretch late in the first half. The Swedes had constructed a 16-8 lead during Quenton Jennings first shift, and Lance Baar sparked Tabor?s counter-run to cut it to 16-13.
But Bethany scored four quick points to raise their lead to seven. Dechant?s back-to-back jumpers trimmed it to three, but the Swedes responded with CJ Littlejohn?s 3-pointer with 6:13 left in the half.
The Bluejays worked the ball to Dechant, who scored a layup despite a foul, and nailed the free throw to make it 23-20.
?Damon came up big on the block and on the offensive glass which sparked our offense all night,? Ratzlaff said. ?He finished with some authority around the rim, which is something we have been working on.?
After a defensive stop, Mike Rousell tied it with a 3-pointer, and Zack Vanselow scored eight of his 12 points in the final 4:28 of the first half.
The Bluejays allowed an 8-0 run early in the second half to cut their lead from 41-30 down to one possession, and Tabor went back to Dechant for six straight points during a 1:26 span.
The Bluejays? lead reached 13 on back-to-back layups by Orson Thomas and Kyle de Blonk with 10 minutes left, and Bethany never closed within five during the stretch run.
Coming?Tabor (6-4) will visit ailing perenniel powerhouse Southwestern (3-7) at 8 p.m. Thursday in Winfield.
Defeating the Moundbuilders would put a share of fourth place in the conference standings at stake against Kansas Wesleyan (7-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Hillsboro.