Done too soon / Tabor College men make early exit with first-round loss

Andrew Thomas throws down the second of three dunks during Tabor?s first-round NAIA Division II tournament game against Morningside. The senior forward led all scorers with 28 points in Tabor?s 86-79 loss. Janae Rempel / Free Press

The Tabor College men made an early exit from the 2015 NAIA Division II Men?s Basketball National Championship after losing to sixth-ranked Morningside (Iowa) in the first round Thursday, 86-79.

Tabor led for nearly half the game, but the Mustangs benefitted from a hot second half of shooting to pull away for the win.

?We just lost focus defensively,? coach Micah Ratzlaff said. ?It wasn?t an effort thing, but miscommunication. Guys were not on the same page and (the Mustangs) shoot it so well. That?s why we were going in and out of man and zone. When they got rolling, it was scary.?

Morningside shot 50 percent (32-64) for the game, including 61.8 percent in the second half (21-34). The Mustangs shot 44 percent from beyond the arc (11-25), including 57.1 percent in the second half (8-14).

The Bluejays made a statement from the start as Andrew Thomas energized the crowd with a dunk just 18 seconds in, but three Morningside baskets put the Mustangs in front. After trailing 13-6, Tabor rallied to tie the game, then Dewayne Biggs scored Tabor?s next two baskets off turnovers, and Tabor led by four.

After the Mustangs tied it, Tabor enjoyed a 7-0 run and led the duration of the first half. The Bluejays? largest margin was 30-22, but the Mustangs trimmed it to 34-30 by halftime.

Tabor increased its lead to 42-33 after JT Nemit and John Jedneak drained back-to-back threes, but the Mustangs? top scorer, Steve O?Neill, contributed six points to an 8-0 run to draw within 42-41.

Thomas scored once, then again, making his third dunk to extend Tabor?s lead to five. Counting those baskets, Thomas scored 10 of Tabor?s next 13 points, reaching 20 points for the game with a basket that made it 55-51 with 10:19 to play.

JT Nemit

Tabor led, 58-54, when Thomas scored at 8:38, but that was the Bluejays? last field goal over the next four minutes. Thomas drew a couple fouls and made all six free throws he attempted, but the Mustangs used three threes to take the lead, 69-64.

Malik Brooks made a three, but the Mustangs hit two more threes in succession to extend their lead to 75-67 with 3:21 to go.

Biggs trimmed the margin to six, but a few critical Bluejay turnovers allowed Morningside to extend its lead to 78-69 with 1:31 left. Brooks hit a trey. After the Tabor defense forced a turnover, Biggs scored to bring it to 78-74 at 1:11.

 

The Mustangs missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Tabor could not secure the rebound, and with an open look inside, the Mustangs increased their lead to six.

Biggs added a pair of free throws for an 80-76 score with 46 seconds left, but after a Mustang turnover, Tabor could not capitalize. O?Neill made two free throws, then Tabor missed a three-point attempt on its next two possessions. Morningside added two free throws and a basket that extended the margin to 10 and all but sealed the win.

Biggs was fouled on a three-point shot with 5.6 seconds remaining and added the final three points from the charity stripe.

?I think they had a little more confidence in the last few minutes,? Thomas said. ?They started shooting it a lot and we tried to guard it, but we didn?t do a great job.?Dewayne Biggs

 

Tabor shot 45.8 percent from the field (27-59). Thomas led all scorers with 28 points. Biggs added 22 and Brooks 12.

O?Neill led the Mustangs with 26 points. Tanner Miller added 15, Kyle Nikkel with 12 and Ryan Tegtmeier with 11. The Mustangs lost to ninth-ranked Saint Francis (Ind.) by two in the second round.

For five seniors?Thomas, Biggs, Nemit, Nick Rice and Justin Malan?the game was the final chapter of their Tabor careers.

Tabor concludes its successful season with a 19-13 record, having won the KCAC regular season title for the first time since 2004-05.

?This is the best season we?ve had since I?ve been here,? Ratzlaff said. ?To run through the conference and win out, that?s not easy to do.?

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