With the winter break just weeks away, one thing at the top of the Bluejays’ wish list has to be confidence.
They could really use it, especially after the brutal non-conference schedule and dropping their KCAC opener Thursday night to league-leading McPherson, 79-70.
Tabor (5-4, 1-1 KCAC) got off to a good start Saturday in Hillsboro, overcoming an abysmal beginning to top the Southwestern Moundbuilders (7-5, 0-2) 75-66, and break even in conference play.
“We had a rough week. The guys are having trouble just having fun playing the game,” said Bluejay coach Micah Ratzlaff. “That doesn’t help when you go to Mac and lose your first conference game; we were really low after that. It was the perfect game for what the guys needed.”
Tabor didn’t appear to be out of that slump until there was seven minutes left in the first half, giving up an 18-2 run to fall behind 22-4.
Southwestern was able to get good looks from behind the arc, ripping the Bluejays’ perimeter defense for 6-of-12 and 42 percent the first half.
Aaron Whitelaw had 18 points, fueling a 13-0 run to help close Southwestern’s gap to 28-23 after a three-point play from Kyle Kroeker with just more than six minutes left in the first half.
Whitelaw and Zach Vanselow, who had a game-high 20 points, cut Tabor’s deficit to one twice in the final two minutes.
With five seconds left in the first half, what once looked like an impossible mountain to climb was finally reached with Whitelaw tying the game at 36 by halftime.
The Bluejays got a huge lift on second chance points, grabbing 11 offensive rebounds for 14 points despite shooting a cool 37 percent from the field and an icy 27 percent from outside the first half.
The ’Builders’ had four-fifths of their starting five finish in double figures, paced by Tim Miser’s 16 points.
Big-man David King had a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds, and his pair of free throws 12 seconds into the second half again had Southwestern in front.
The lead changed hands four more times until Vanselow buried a three to put Tabor in the driver’s seat with 12:42 left.
Tabor shut down the red-hot ’Builders’ three-point shooting in the second half, holding them to a paltry 1-for-8 and 31 percent from the floor — 37 percent overall.
Southwestern got to within four three times in a span of 3:21, but Tabor never let it get closer than two possessions of its lead.
The Bluejays matched their largest lead of the game — 11 points — three times in the closing two minutes to keep the momentum in their favor.
“We also need to be able to do this on the road. It was big that we came back and played consistent the second half,” Ratzlaff said.
The Bluejays hope their momentum keeps going, facing a pair of tough road tests this week staring Thursday in Salina against Kansas Wesleyan.
Tabor wraps up the week Saturday in Wichita against Friends University.