Tabor’s Robbie Samuel considers himself a defensive stopper, someone qualified to give an honest judgment on how to defend the NAIA’s No. 1 scorer in Joe Mitchell.
The hype has spread, Hillsboro included, and on Wednesday evening inside the Garvey Center, Samuel had a first-hand look at Mitchell.
“He’s a tough competitor, but we wanted the challenge,” Samuel said. “I thought we came out and contained him very well.”
Tabor (13-7, 6-3 KCAC) handed the No. 21 Falcons (16-4, 7-2) their second straight loss in KCAC play, defeating them 78-74 at Friends.
Tabor coach Micah Ratzlaff also felt good about his team’s coverage — until an assistant handed him the stat sheet to reveal Mitchell actually upped his 33.1 scoring average with a 36-point performance.
“You can’t try to steal it and you can’t reach,” Ratzlaff said of defending Mitchell. “You have to keep your ground and give him a step. I thought our guys did exactly that, and he still lit us up.”
While Mitchell’s final line of 36 points on 12-of-21 shooting and eight rebounds is impressive, he had more turnovers (3) than field goals (2) in the first half.
That was when Tabor capitalized, building a 37-28 halftime lead and forcing the Falcons to play from even further behind when it opened a 19-point lead with 12 minutes remaining.
“In the first half, we were kind of cluttered on offense,” Mitchell said. “We weren’t really moving, and I was kind of forcing some plays that I shouldn’t have forced.”
Credit that to Tabor’s choice to zone up a team that possessed the leading scorer in the country along with a cast that had Friends top-5 in field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage entering Wednesday.
“I thought the zone was a really good defense against Joe Mitchell,” Ratzlaff said. “I don’t know if it was a great defense for the rest of the team, but we tried to get out to their shooters and mess with their rhythm.”
Mitchell’s scoring prowess was on full display the second half, providing highlights by flushing a dunk through while being fouled and a cross-over that left his defender on the ground and the ball through the hoop.
He had 28 points in the second half, scoring on his first seven attempts in the half.
But when the zone defense collapsed on Mitchell, the Falcons were unable to make Tabor pay by making their usual array of three-pointers. Friends was 5 for 29 from the three-point line.
“What do you do?” Friends coach Dale Faber said. “When the ball doesn’t go in the basket, you have other responsibilities on the court and we didn’t fulfill those to the degree we needed to when we didn’t shoot well. It was just a crummy night.”
Friends reeled off a 14-4 run to cut the margin to 66-60 with 7:56 left, but missed seven shots the rest of the game that would have cut the margin to a one-possession game.
“This team knows how to go about their business,” Faber said. “They’re an experienced group that I trust 100 percent.”
Halftime_TC 37, FU 28. Three-point shooting_TC 2-12 (Sauer 2-2, Thomas 0-1, Biggs 0-1, Hopkinson 0-1, Smith 0-2, Rust 0-2, Carter 0-3), FU 5-29 (Nelson 3-10, Mitchell 1-5, Wilson 1-5, Johnson 0-1, Williams 0-1, Sponsel 0-1, Rausch 0-6). Rebounds_TC 39 (Carter 9), FU 29 (Mitchell 8). Assists_TC 16 (Biggs, Carter 5), FU 13 (Mitchell 3). Fouls_TC 21, FU 18.