The men were defeated by McPherson, 64-57 Saturday night in McPherson. McPherson was picked seventh in both pre-season polls.
McPherson—Jordan Funk scored 13 points Friday and was the only Bluejay in double-digits.
Tabor started slow and fell behind by a 7-1 margin when Mitch Arnett took a steal the other way, setting up Zach Kimble for a layup at 15:29.
The score prompted an adjustment, and Tabor went with a smaller lineup—and the Bluejays responded with a 7-2 spurt.
Funk capped the outburst with a 3-point play, converting the foul shot at 9-8.
McPherson responded with a 14-0 run, but Tabor regained much of the lost ground in the latter part of the second half.
The charge was sustained by a stronger effort at the defensive end, and Aaron Whitelaw finally cut the deficit to single-digits, scoring a pair of foul shots to make it 23-14 with 9:14 to go.
Down the stretch, it was Funk’s four points in rapid succession that further narrowed the gap. A jumper at 4:09 followed by two fouls shots at 3:02 gave Funk 7 points before intermisssion.
After halftime, the Bluejays overcame deficits as great as 36-27 and 38-29, and Funk was again in the thick of the rally.
With 14:29 to go, another set of foul shots made it a 38-31 affair, and Zach Vanselow entered during the stoppage. Vanselow scored five points during the next 3:33 and Tabor cut McPherson’s lead down to 38-36 at 11:56, when Vanselow finished off a 3-point play.
The Bluejays kept their foot on the gas and took a 44-43 lead on a layup by Orson Thomas. Tabor had not led the game since Jared Hett hit a foul shot 1:34 into the contest.
Vanselow swatted away McPherson’s next shot attempt, but Tabor was unable to capitalize in transition.
The Bluejays retook the lead at 46-44 on a spectacular driving layup by Kyle de Blonk, who had taken a rebound by Thomas coast-to-coast and knifed his way down to the low block before banking his shot high off the glass and in.
Tabor supporters, so great in number that they spilled out of the designated visitors seating section, erupted with shrill fervor, as did the Bluejay bench.
Unfortunately, the bench also overspilled its bounds, and unlike the crowd taking the most convenient available seat, the referee was obligated to stop play long enough to send the bench players back to their seats. The stoppage allowed the Bulldogs, buckling under the weight of the moment, to regain their composure—but only for a moment.
On the next series, McPherson knotted the game on foul shots following a whistle against Whitelaw, who came right back at the other end, exploding to the glass and scoring a layup for a 48-46 advantage.
A steal by de Blonk sent Funk in transition the other way, but no points resulted, with Bulldog reserve guard Shawn Young racing back to knock the ball away from Funk at the rack.
Another Tabor stop gave Thomas a crack at widening the margin, and Thomas came through with a layup that made it 50-46 with 4:04 to go.
Thomas made it a 4-point game again 51 seconds later, burying two foul shots for a 52-48 edge.
But after that, the Bluejays saw much more of Young than they’d have liked, as the senior transfer point guard collected a steal for an unassisted layup that sparked an 11-5 run to close out the game.
Young, along with Funk, led all scorers with 13 points. The Bluejays committed 25 turnovers to 10 for McPherson, meaning that despite outrebounding the Bulldogs and shooting at a clip almost 20 percent higher than the home team in the second half, the Bulldogs were able to out-chance the visitors 64-57 in the game and 32-26 in the second frame.
Bethany—The game began with Tabor looking out of sync at both ends of the floor.
“We installed most of a new system this week, and the guys struggled with it at first,” coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “But we became more comfortable with it as the game went on, and we were able to pull out the win.”
Tabor led 36-33 on the strength of three free throws by Jeff Hussong less than a minute before intermission. Hussong played only 2:31, but was very efficient in his first varsity action. Aaron Whitelaw assisted on four baskets during the first half, setting up Zach Vanselow and Orson Thomas for two scores apiece. Two of those assists came during a 10-2 run that spanned 2:07 and turned a 17-12 deficit into a 20-17 advantage with 10:14 to play.
The teams rode a manic rollercoaster for the remainder of the half, as six ties and nine lead changes followed before intermission.
Neither team established a run until the Swedes put together a 10-4 series midway through the second half.
Then Whitelaw took over, scoring four straight points at the 8-minute mark and converting consecutive 3-point plays at 6:15 and 5:49.
With 10 points in 3:03 of game action, Whitelaw dug the Bluejays out of a 67-62 hole and carried them to a 74-69 lead. But Thomas might have made the bigger plays, grabbing key rebounds at each end of the court to sustain the run—and his ferocity on the offensive glass dialed the home crowd to its highest volume when, after he missed a foul shot, he somehow plucked the rebound out of the air and laid it in before any Swede defender could react to his presence in the lane. The put-back made it 67-67, and Whitelaw’s 3-point plays immediately put the Bluejays on the better end of the 19th lead change of the night.
There would not be a 20th, as the Bluejays ran their advantage to 10 points, 81-71, on a 3-pointer drained by Caleb Good with 3:14 left. Tabor pushed it to 11 when Mike Stoecker sank a pair of foul shots with 2:32 to go.
Bethany stayed close, cutting the lead down to 85-81 with eight straight free throws during a sequence of unusual foul calls, but Whitelaw and Kyle de Blonk iced it at the free throw line.
Whitelaw totaled 28 points, Thomas scored 15 and Stoecker scored 10. Whitelaw added seven assists and five steals, and Thomas grabbed eight rebounds. As a team, Tabor shot 29-of-40 at the foul line.
Coming—Tabor (1-1 conference, 3-6 overall) faces Saint Mary (0-2, 1-8) at 8 p.m. Thursday in Hillsboro . The Bluejays host Friends (1-1, 4-5) 7 p.m. Saturday.