TC solves Bethel, bombs vs. Sterling


Kyle Kroeker shoots over Chad Friess early in Tabor?s 66-52 loss to Sterling.

The Sterling College men's basketball team spoiled both Aaron Whitelaw's return to the lineup and Damon Dechant's 20-point Saturday night, using a 41-point second half to steal a 66-52 victory on Tabor?s home floor.

The win moved the Warriors (13-3) two games ahead of both Saint Mary (11-5) and Kansas Wesleyan (11-5), with two games remaining in the race for first place in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.

The Bluejays (9-7) defeated Bethel (1-15) by a 47-28 margin at home Thursday and finished the week holding down fifth place in the KCAC.

Sterling?The Bluejays started the game firing on all cylinders, but sputtered to the finish line.

?We came out and displayed confidence, poise, and discipline,? coach Micah Ratzlaff said. ?This lasted for about 30 minutes.?

After that, Tabor ?stopped playing as a unit and got very selfish on both ends of the floor,? he said. ?We really struggled with turnovers down the stretch and the defensive pressure was not consistent.?

The Bluejays gained an 11-point lead on a layup-and-1 by Orson Thomas 3:25 into the second half, but Sterling used a 12-2 run to pull within one point on a foul shot by Chad Friess.

Aaron Whitelaw answered with a triple from the top of the key, but the first of three consecutive 3-pointers by point guard Zach Goodrich made it 44-43 in the 29th minute of action following the opening tip.

Moments later, Goodich buried a pair of 3-pointers 20 seconds apart, turning Tabor’s lead into a 49-46 deficit.

The Bluejays were not able to retake the lead, but Whitelaw nearly tied it with a tough layup in traffic?a play on which the senior guard was flattened by the Sterling defense but no foul was called.

After Damon Dechant cut the Sterling advantage to 51-50, the Warriors rattled off eight straight points?in no small part because Bluejays tower of power Zack Vanselow picked up his fourth personal foul at the conclusion of a fast-break chance that the Warriors transition defense demolished with the help of one too many Tabor passes.

Perhaps more important than either the missed scoring opportunity or the foul call, Whitelaw was again belted by the Sterling defense?and had to leave the contest with an apparent aggrevation of the injury that originally sidelined him late in Tabor’s first meeting with the Warriors.

With Whitelaw sidelined, Sterling held Tabor without a score. Whitelaw returned to the floor with two minutes to go, and almost immediately assisted on a layup by Orson Thomas.

Thomas nearly scored again a moment later, as the Bluejays transition offense worked the ball to him under the basket?but Sterling center Jonathan Woods ran the length of the floor and caught the fast break from behind, blocking Thomas’ shot and taking a moment to taunt the Bluejays bench.

Tabor did not score afterward.

Some of Woods’ chest-thumping braggadocio at that moment no doubt grew out of the frustration both teams exhibited toward curious officiating.

Much of the anger from both sides was queued up by a strange sequence in the first half, when a back-court violation committed by Sterling was not called?a call so conspicuously bad that, for the second time all season, Bluejays coach Micah Ratzlaff was whistled for a technical foul.

?I deserved the ?T,?? Ratzlaff said. ?I wanted them to know how I felt, and I didn’t feel very good.?

But after Goodrich made both foul shots, Sterling’s bench appeared similarly as dissatisfied with whatever words were offered to explain why Tabor was awarded possession out of bounds following the technical.

After the dust settled, it became clear that Goodrich’s pair of free throws had taken some of the luster off of Tabor’s fine start?a 10-6 run that saw Vanselow score both the opening basket and an “and-1” layup for an early 8-4 Tabor lead.

Vanselow did not score again in the first half, and Sterling took a 15-14 lead on a pair of Trenton Stutzman free throws with 7:11 left.

But with Vanselow and Kyle Kroeker both in early foul trouble, Dechant answered the bell for the Bluejays. He notched (in sequence) a layup, a foul-line jumper, a pair of free throws, an assist on a Whitelaw 3-pointer, and two point blank baskets in the final two minutes of the first half.

With a layup with 2:03 left, Dechant finished off a 20-foot bounce pass that Whitelaw threaded through a needle in transition.

Two possessions later, Dechant ran the floor to cap a fast break started by Mike Rousell with a layup that boosted Tabor?s lead to seven.

?We need multiple players to step up and play big when the pressures on, and we have struggled to get that play night in and night out,? Ratzlaff said. ?Damon was a consistent force on the offensive end, making big buckets throughout the game, but it just wasn’t enough.?

Sterling closed the gap to 27-25, entering the intermission break on a 5-0 run?a 3-point basket by Randy July, and a 2-pointer by Mac Stephenson.

Tabor did not have a double-digit scorer other than Dechant, who fouled out with 16 seconds left.

Whitelaw tallied eight points, Thomas had seven, and Vanselow fouled out with seven.

Woods posted a 10 points, 11 boards double-double to pave the way for the Warriors. Goodrich scored 15 points, Friess had 13 and Stutzman finished with 10.

Bethel?Tabor opted to play a tight zone against Bethel’s dribble-drive offense, and the Threshers found no answers from their perimeter shooters.

?We wanted to put in a full court press and a zone in to help us prepare for Sterling,? Ratzlaff said. ?It just so happened that along with our defensive focus for 40 minutes, Bethel really struggled to make baskets.?

The Bluejays broke out to a 10-0 lead as Kyle Kroeker and Orson Thomas generated open shots for each other within the framework of Tabor’s inside-outside passing game.

But Bethel was troubled less by Tabor’s offense (which shot an anemic 24 percent in the first half) than by its own lack of offense.

The Threshers best stretch before the break was more of a mosey than a run, as they outscored Tabor 5-4 during the final 10:31 of the first half. Tabor led 20-8 at halftime.

?I think putting so much effort to the defense during the week took away from our offensive play,? Ratzlaff said. ?Even though it was a little boring for the fans, it was good to see the guys work hard with something new and get a win.?

Bethel shot 3-for-18 from the field and sputtered into the intermission having scored just eight points in the first 20 minutes.

The Threshers closed the gap to nine midway through the second half, but Tabor posted an 11-0 run to make it a 20-point game with four minutes left.

Kroeker scored 10 points and de Blonk had the game high with 13. Jordon Regehr scored 11 for the Threshers, who committed 18 turnovers while recording only three assists.

Coming?Tabor will have a shot at jumping into fourth place when the Bluejays visit Ottawa (10-6) at 8 p.m. Thursday. Tabor?s regular season schedule concludes at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bethany.

The conference tournament begins almost as soon as the final horn sounds on the regular season, with the play-in round games slated for Monday. When seedings are finalized, Tabor?s tournament schedule will be posted on the Free Press Web site.

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