Two nights after the Tabor College men’s basketball team demolished highly-touted Sterling, the Bluejays fumbled away a game they controlled for 30 minutes.
Tabor dealt Sterling a 92-80 loss on the first night of Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference games Thursday, but Bethel stole a 72-68 on Tabor?s home floor Saturday.
?I felt like Bethel played a very intelligent game and wanted the game a little more than we did,? Bluejays coach Micah Ratzlaff said.
Tabor led from the first moments, but fell behind on Trey Ronnebaum’s foul shots with 9:39 to go. From there, the Threshers opened up an eight point lead before Tabor coupled its 3-point shooting skill with aggressive rebounding?a combination that proved decisive at Sterling, but went missing for nine minutes of the second half Saturday.
?We did not compete on the glass like we have been and it really hurt us down the stretch,? Ratzlaff said. ?I give Bethel a lot of credit because they came onto our court and beat a good basketball team.?
In the final minute, Kyle Kroeker brought the Bluejays to the brink of victory with two 3-point shots.
Down by six after Ronnebaum answered the first of Kroeker’s treys with a free throw, Tabor closed the gap to 69-65 on Dan Hann’s tip-in basket. Then Bethel nearly cracked, first turning it over on the ensuing inbounds and then failing to account for Kroeker on the Bluejays’ set play.
Kroeker?s corner trey made it a 1-point game with 11 seconds left. But the Threshers successfully inbounded to John Watson, who drained both double bonus free throws for a three point lead. After a clock error cost Tabor three precious seconds on their first attempt at the inbounds, the Bluejays needed to create a 3-pointer in seven seconds or less?and Bethel hacked Damon Dechant to prevent that possibility.
Dechant was all but unguardable in the first half, as he saddled Justin Schneider with three quick fouls while scoring nine points on five shots. He finished with 18 points on 11 field goal attempts. Kroeker totaled 20 points including a 4-for-8 night from the 3-point arc. Ronnebaum led all scorers with 21; Watson ended with 18 and Matt Regier added 11 for Bethel.
Tabor had just five turnovers in the first half, but committed 10 giveaways in the second half. The Bluejay guards were plagued by foul trouble and injury; starter Jason Hett played 10 minutes in the first half, but was limited to 12 in the contest after he sustained an apparent lower body injury during an awkward scramble for a loose ball.
?Jason Hett has a severe ankle sprain,? Ratzlaff said, noting that Hett will probably not play Thursday.
Bethel joined Friends and McPherson as the KCAC?s only teams with two conference wins.
Sterling?Tabor trailed by as many as nine points in the first half, but took a 45-43 lead into the break and turned it into a 12-point win on the first night of conference games. Cody Arnold played less than six minutes of the first half and had zero points at the break, but hit four second-half 3-pointers, helping Tabor take a 92-80 victory over the Warriors. Arnold totaled 18 points.
?I like the way our team plays when they feel like they are the underdog,? Ratzlaff said. ?At Sterling, I felt like our toughness is what gave us an edge in that game.?
Five minutes into the game, it was tied at 12. But for the next seven minutes of the first half, it was all Sterling: 3-pointers by Zach Goodrich and Randy July put the Warriors ahead 26-18 at 9:56; Tabor cut it to four on a triple by Rob Moore, but Trenton Stutzman, Kenny McGrath and Zach Poole took advantage of turnovers to amp Sterling’s lead to 35-26. Then the Bluejays ripped control of the game right out of the Warriors’ grasp. The Bluejays front line out-rebounded Sterling 5-1 and Kyle Kroeker hit two technical foul free throws as Tabor drew within a possession, 35-34. After Lawson Kingsley knocked down a 3-pointer, Damon Dechant closed out the half with a defensive rebound, two free throws, a steal and a layup in the final 1:30.
?Our bigs were very aggressive offensively and on the boards, and our guards really battled defensively against the dribble drive and also helped out on the boards,? Ratzlaff said. ?When you do these things, you will get rewarded on the offensive end. Damon Dechant was the best player on the floor that night.?
Sterling never recovered, as Kroeker, Dan Hann, Dechant and Moore combined to score eight of the first 10 points in the second half. Then the Bluejays 3-point shooting kicked in, as Michael Janzen set up treys for Kingsley and Arnold 33 seconds apart. Kingsley fed Arnold for a triple, then Ryan Chippeaux set one up for Kingsley. Arnold nailed a contested triple for a 15-point lead.
Sterling played a quick-foul game for most of the final five minutes, but made almost no headway.
Dechant totaled 19 points and 16 rebounds for the night.
Sterling was picked second by the media and third by the coaches in preseason polls, but dropped to 0-2 with a loss to Bethany on Saturday.
Coming?Tabor (3-6, 1-1 KCAC) played at Fort Hays State after the print deadline Monday. The Bluejays will host McPherson Thursday and will close its 2009 schedule with a visit to Ottawa Saturday.