“I think we’re a ways away from playing our best basketball, and I think that’s a good thing considering our circumstances,” coach Shawn Winter said. “We really have a new team this year and we knew it would take a while to come together. But we’re starting to see more and more of those glimpses of what we can do as a team.”
“Hopefully here pretty soon we’re going to put together two good halves in one game and play that way for 40 minutes,” he added. “I felt like we came more prepared to play on Saturday and were more focused than we were on Friday.”
Ozarks—Though a 44-27 halftime deficit was insurmountable, the Bluejays stayed with the Bobcats in the second period Saturday.
After thrashing Sterling 80-58, the No. 1 team in the NAIA division II preseason poll came out flat and Tabor leaped to leads of 4-0, 6-1 and 10-5.
Katie Fast and Joanna Pyle got the Bluejays out of the gate quickly, with Pyle following her own miss and scoring the 4-0 basket 1:23 after the opening tip.
Stacie Herman scored at 17:05 to make it 6-1, and stripped the ball from Janessa DeMuth for an easy transition basket with 15:33 to go.
But on the subsequent play, Kayli Combs tallied the first of Ozarks’ 12 3-pointers.
Combs set up Rebekah Howard for a 3-point shot at 14:09, and the Bobcats had their first lead of the night at 13-10.
Herman tied it at 13-all off an assist from Pyle, but Combs struck again off a pass from DeMuth, and Tabor trailed 16-13.
The margin mushroomed to 20-13 and reached 32-17 when Howard hit her second trey with 6:46 to go.
After Herman made it 32-22 at 4:47, Tabor went without a field goal until Kirsten Watson scored a 3-point shot 46 seconds before intermission.
The first 8:35 of the second half continued to be tough sledding for Tabor, and Ozarks built a 69-34 lead with 11:25 to play.
After Herman pilfered the ball from Combs, Pyle scored a 3-pointer at 10:49 and Winter called for time.
“What we tell our team in that time is that we need to stay focused and remember what our big picture is. It’s a lot more important how you play the game and the effort that you give than whether you win or lose,” Winter said.
“So even if you’re down by 20 to 30 points, sometimes you have to use time outs to keep your team focused and motivated to close the gap as much as they can.”
Combs came back with a 3-point shot, but Pyle rebounded a Tabor miss and set up Herman for another 3-pointer at 10:14.
Addie Cole came up with a steal at the defensive end, then drew a shooting foul on offense. She buried both free throws.
Then, with 8:44 to play, Watson hit a 3-point shot to cut the difference on the scoreboard under 30.
Watson and Herman sparked another spurt at 5:22. Trailing 78-49, Herman drilled a 3-pointer that started the Bluejays on a 7-2 run that made it 80-59 when Watson sank a pair of free throws with 2:58 to go.
“Stacie has been up and down a little bit so far,” Winter said. “I tell her to not worry about points and to be more concerned with how hard she plays on the court and what kind of leadership she gives, and the points will come.”
That made it a 21-point margin, but that was as close as Tabor would get.
A Pyle free throw made it 83-62 at 1:40 and Jordan Crosson’s second field goal as a Bluejay made it 86-65 with nine seconds left.
Herman totaled 25 points to lead all scorers on 9-of-17 shooting from the floor. Watson finished with 15 and Fast scored 8 points to go with eight rebounds.
Saint Gregory—Behind hot shooting from Kirsten Watson, the Bluejays jumped out to a 9-4 lead 4:17 into the contest, but the Cavaliers roared back to tie it at 9-9 when the Tabor offense misfired on consecutive possessions.
“We just have to stay focused and remember that the schedule we play non-conference is designed to get us ready for conference play—and even though our record is not what we want it to be, it’s important that we learn from these games,” Winter said.
The Bluejays lost the lead for the first time at 10:18 but kept their composure. Watson was fouled in the act of shooting beyond the 3-point line and evened the score at 16-all on three straight foul shots with 8:30 left in the half.
Nkechi Okorie gave St. Gregory’s a short-lived lead at 8:09, and Tabor bounced back with four quick points from Dana Champlin to take a 20-19 lead with 7:08 to go.
But Okorie, a 5-feet, 11-inch senior forward from San Jose, Calif., got to the foul line on the next possession and gave the Cavaliers a lead they would not lose with two free throws, making it 21-20 with 6:51 left in the first half.
With turnovers piling up and foul trouble mounting, the Bluejays allowed a 9-1 run and trailed 30-21 with 2:40 to go.
Katie Fast re-entered the game as part of a mass substitution with 2:13 to go and sank two foul shots and a short-range 2-pointer to make it 31-25 going into halftime.
After intermission, Morgan Jack snapped a 3-pointer through the net to give St. Gregory’s a 9-point lead some momentum.
The Cavaliers went on a 13-0 run. When the Bluejays finally got on the board 4:30 into the period, it registered as barely a blip in the game flow.
Watson hit a 2-point shot off a pass from Chelsea Malone, who also set up a 3-pointer for Stacie Herman and a lay-in for Addie Cole. But even with 7 points on three possessions, the Bluejays were unable to cut into their 17-point deficit.
Cheri Mount scored a 2-point basket assisted by Malone at 10:31 that made it 49-34.
“I think Chelsea is at about 75 percent (healthy), and I’ve seen glimpses of her moving a lot better and being able to do some things that she’s used to being able to do on the court,” Winter said. “She’s coming around, and I think we’ll have her at 100 percent by the second half of the season.
“We have some games before then, and I think she’ll continue to make small improvements—but the three week break in the schedule should really help her be physically ready for the second half of the season.”
But Okorie tallied twice and Allison Klick scored a 3-pointer during a 56-second burst that put Tabor down by 22 with 9:08 left.
After that, the Bluejays finally found some traction. Behind Brittany Roth, who put back an offensive rebound for 2 points at 8:35, then blocked Klick’s shot at the defensive end, then scored off a pass from Joanna Pyle at 7:54.
Pyle notched a pair of foul shots, and Roth came up with a steal that turned into a pair of free throws for Watson at 7:12.
Watson made both, and the score was 60-42 with 7:12 to play.
With 5:01 left to play, Okorie went to the bench for a breather, and Tabor put together a 13-1 run.By the time Okorie re-entered at 3:37, all the momentum was going Tabor’s way.
Watson capped the run with a 21-foot 3-point shot with 1:23 to go, and Tabor trailed by only 8.
But with the clock ticking in St. Gregory’s favor, the Bluejays were forced to foul, and freshman guard Callie Brewer made just enough of her foul shots to seal the game.
Pyle cut it to 7 with a 3-pointer from the wing, Katie Mount scored a 2-pointer and Herman threw in a 3-ball as time expired to make the final score 69-65.
Watson led the Bluejays with 15 points, and Fast scored 10. Roth had 11 rebounds and 3 blocks. Herman added four rebounds, four assists and three steals to 8 points on the afternoon.
Okorie led all scorers with 21 points, and six Cavaliers scored four or more points in her support.
Emporia—After Brittany Roth made it 4-2 with a layup assisted by Kirsten Watson 88 seconds into the game, highlights for the Bluejays were hard to come by as the Hornets sprinted out to a 20-4 lead.
“It’s one of those games we play for a lot of different reasons,” Winter said. “It can be really fun for our players to play a team at that level against the third-ranked team in NCAA division II.”
“The goal for the coaching staff is to keep the team focused and to get the team to execute what we want to execute,” he added. “We were able to do that for most of the game, but that team is going to make big runs.”
Tabor strung two scores together at the 14:17 mark, as Joanna Pyle ran the floor and got open in the lane to finish off a fast break run by Stacie Herman. Then Pyle stole the ball from Alli Volkens and fed it to Watson for a 3-pointer.
“We knew Joanna would bring athleticism to the team, and she is able to use her speed and strength to make plays and she plays with a lot of heart,” Winter said.
The burst made it 20-9 with 13:24 to play until halftime, but it was almost all Emporia after that.
Addie Cole snapped an 11-1 Hornet run with a 3-point play from the low block at 9:58, but the Hornets rattled off a 20-6 series and finished the half with a 58-24 lead.
Out of the gate after intermission, Volkens got a piece of a layup attempted by Herman, who stuck with the play, retrieved the loose ball and kicked it out to Pyle for a 3-pointer 18 seconds into the second half.
The Bluejays went back to Cole inside for a pair of baskets at 12:23 and 11:46.
Cole and Katie Mount each scored 7 points, while Herman and Watson led the team with 8 points each.
Michelle Stueve and Allie Renberg led Emporia with 26 points apiece. Stueve, a 6-2 senior forward from Olpe, powered the Hornet attack by shooting 10-of-16 from the field, including 6-of-9 showing from 3-point range.
Coming—Tabor (1-7) paired off with University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma Tuesday at Chickasha for its final tuneup before opening the conference schedule at home against Bethany Nov. 29.