The Tabor College men?s basketball team ended the regular season riding a six-game win streak, giving the Bluejays the regular season title with a 15-3 record.
It is the Bluejays? first regular season championship since the 2004-05 season.
?To be able to only lose three games in this conference, that doesn?t happen very often,? coach Micah Ratzlaff said. ?It feels great. We wouldn?t be able to do it without the support of the community, the way they support basketball here at Tabor.?
Tabor has also punched its ticket to the NAIA national tournament for the second consecutive year.
Ottawa?Tabor, who has not lost a home conference game all season, continued the tradition with an 87-73 win Saturday.
?I thought we were really aggressive,??coach Micah Ratzlaff said. ?I thought we did a good job of getting to the free-throw line, especially in the second half, and we shot pretty well from the free-throw line.
?I thought we defended pretty well all night. I thought we could?ve guarded in the low post a little better down the stretch, but I thought we did guard three really good guards. I thought we did a pretty good job on them.?
The score remained within three points for more than the first 14 minutes of the game. With the Bluejays trailing, 21-18, JT Nemit hit a three to ignite a 7-0 run that put Tabor in front, 25-21 at the 5:34 mark. Ottawa reclaimed a 28-27 margin, but Malik Brooks and Nemit combined for an 8-3 run to end the first half, giving Tabor a 35-31 advantage at the break.
Ottawa took a 36-35 lead after halftime, then Brooks scored twice to put Tabor in front. The teams more or less traded scores as the margin once again remained within three.
With Tabor trailing, 50-47, Jonathan Gibson scored to ignite a 16-3 Bluejay surge. Dewayne Biggs scored 10 points during that stretch, including making all eight free throws he attempted. By the time Biggs scored at the 9:04 mark, Tabor held a double-digit, 63-53, lead. The Braves trimmed it to 65-60, then Brooks drained a three. When Nemit made a three at 5:27, Tabor?s lead was back in double figures, 73-62.
The Braves drew within seven twice after that. Nemit and Biggs contributed to a 7-0 burst that put Tabor firmly in control, 81-67, with 2:02 to play. The Bluejays? maintained a double-digit margin the rest of the way.
?We just played well, and we made some big plays down the stretch,? Ratzlaff said. ?Guys passed the ball really well a couple of possessions. It was really fun to watch.?
Brooks led all scorers with 22 points. Biggs added 21 and Nemit 12. Lance Carter, who was named KCAC defensive player of the week, pulled down 14 rebounds to go with his nine points.
Sterling?Despite somewhat of a slow start, Tabor cruised to an 84-70 victory Thursday.
?I just thought we played really, really hard,? coach Micah Ratzlaff said. ?I thought we got out and ran almost all game, and every chance we got we pushed it. I thought that was a really big deal for us to get some easy buckets.?
Sterling burst to a 7-0 lead out of the gate?the Warriors? largest of the night?and Tabor trailed for nearly the first 12 minutes.
An Andrew Thomas dunk off an assist from Lance Carter at the 13:17 mark gave Tabor a spark, and Jake Arck scored to bring the Bluejays within 15-13. A Warrior three increased the margin to five before John Jedneak scored to ignite a 7-2 run that tied the game at 20 after Chance LeBlanc drained a three at 8:04. The Bluejays took their first lead, 25-24, after a Malik Brooks three, which was the start of a 10-0 run that put Tabor?s lead at 11, 35-24, with 4:16 left in the half. The Bluejays led, 43-33, at halftime.
?We made plays when we needed to,? Ratzlaff said. ?We got that 10-point lead at halftime, which was huge because they got off to a really good start, but we fought our way back. Malik hit some big threes in the first half. That was huge.?
Sterling trimmed the lead to seven before Tabor increased the margin to 52-41 after Jonathan Gibson scored with 16:00 left in the game. The teams traded scores, and when Lance Carter made a basket at 11:08, the Bluejays led, 61-50.
A 6-1 Warrior run trimmed the margin to six before Tabor regained a 10-point lead, 67-57. Again, Sterling cut the lead to six, 70-64, with 5:14 to play, but after that, an 8-2 Tabor run secured a double-digit advantage the rest of the way. Tabor enjoyed its largest lead, 83-68, with 2:05 to go, and the Bluejays cruised to the 14-point win.
?We got a lot of good looks from the high post in the zone, and Lance was really good getting to the rim,? Ratzlaff said. ?We kept that 10-point lead long enough to where they had to come out of (the zone) because it wasn?t changing a whole lot. They went man and then we were able to call our sets out. When people do that, they?re going to struggle guarding us.
?We have a lot of ammunition this late in the year. We got them out of their zone, and once we were able to do that, I just thought our transition offense was by far the biggest key tonight and just (being) able to attack the rim.?
Thomas led Tabor with 17 points. Brooks added 16, JT Nemit 12 and Carter 11. Carter also pulled down 10 rebounds.
Coming?Tabor, ranked 25th in the NAIA Top 25, will now prepare for the KCAC tournament. As the No. 1 seed, the Bluejays will host No. 8 McPherson at 7 p.m. Wednesday. With a win, Tabor will host either No. 4 Friends or No. 5 Southwes?tern at 2 p.m. Saturday at 2 p.m.
The other half of the bracket features No. 3 Bethany hosting No. 6 Sterling and No. 2 Saint Mary hosting No. 7 Ottawa. The championship will be played March 2 at Hartman Arena. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.