It’s not how you start, but how you finish.
Just ask Tabor College women’s basketball coach Sean Winter.
For 20 minutes Saturday night at Hillsboro against a team projected in the pre-season to be the lone contender to challenging Sterling for the league title, the Southwestern Lady Moundbuilders, Tabor was in control.
The Bluejays shot a hot 56 percent from the field, 3-for-5 from outside, and more important yet — took care of the basketball — to lead 40-33 by halftime.
Unfortunately, it was the second half that cost Tabor (2-7, 1-1 KCAC) a chance to open KCAC play 2-0 with the ’Builders’ (5-4, 1-1) pressure defense spelling disaster in a 66-58 loss.
“We put in a new offensive system and our girls still are adjusting to that and we haven’t had a chance to really work against pressure,” Winter said. “We have some pressure releases that we need to put in, they just did a good job of not letting us get into our offense with their ball pressure. We’ve got to take better care of the basketball.”
Neither team opened the game on a fantastic note with five ties and two lead changes through the game’s first 11 minutes.
Nearly five minutes into the game, Tabor only had a Kirsten Watson field goal under its belt and trailed, 5-2.
Baskets from Jordan Crosson, Chelsea Malone, and Gina Hullet kept the Bluejays breathing down Southwestern’s neck in the opening nine minutes.
Stephanie Silvas finished with a team-high 16 points, including 10 in the first half and a pair of threes, the first giving Tabor its first lead at 18-15.
An 8-0 run stretched the Bluejay lead as far as 38-27, but Tabor went without a field goal in the waning three minutes.
Winter was hardly disappointed in the Bluejay defense, limiting the ’Builders to a chilly 33 percent shooting through the first half — 38 percent for the game.
The 34 free looks at the basket from 26 fouls caused him discomfort though, as Southwestern used the free-throw line to keep within an arm’s length of the Bluejays in the first half.
Kara Beal stung Tabor for a game-high 20 points — 12 in the second half — putting the Bluejays down for good, 46-44, with a three-point play at the 11:34 mark.
The Bluejays seemed to panic shortly after, trying to force the ball inside, only to be intercepted by ’Builder defenders, and even worse, Tabor couldn’t buy a basket the second half.
Southwestern’s pressure harassed Tabor into 14 turnovers in the second half and cooled off the hot shooting to a frigid 7-for-24 and 43 percent for the game.
A pair of Silvas’ triples got Tabor as close as 58-56 the final 2:52, but an 8-0 run during the next 1:20 more or less sealed the deal for Southwestern.
The free-throw line killed the Bluejays the final two mintues as the ‘Builders were 7-of-8 and 12-for-19 the second half.
“I think our confidence was shaken as a team and as individuals,” Winter said. “We need to build our mental toughness. I was pleased with our defensive effort, but we need to work on not giving away fouls. They made 22 at the line and that didn’t help us.”
The Bluejays take to the road this week starting at 6 p.m. Thursday in Salina against Kansas Wesleyan and concluding Saturday in Wichita against Friends University.