Two baskets in the first minute-plus of overtime Monday night afforded the opportunity for Tabor men’s basketball team to do something it hadn’t done for the previous 40 — be patient.
There was no patience when Tabor was chasing Sterling’s nine-point second-half lead in the KCAC postseason tournament championship. There was none when the Bluejays needed a three-pointer in the final seconds to tie it, and none from Nick Sauer when he decided to take it.
Sauer made the shot to send the game beyond regulation, and those early baskets finally offered Tabor some breathing room, which it protected with a 97-90 win at Hartman Arena. In addition to Sauer’s heroics, Tabor forward Lance Carter had 42 points and 17 rebounds.
The Bluejays (21-12), the No. 5 seed, earned an automatic berth into the NAIA national tournament later this month, which they not-so-patiently waited on after taking a five-point lead in the final minute of overtime and brief hope for Sterling.
“We started smiling a little too early,” Tabor coach Micah Ratzlaff said. “But that’s normal for our guys. We got stops down the stretch. Our zone (defense) was huge.”
An offensive foul with 47 seconds to go took away one of Tabor’s final chances to go ahead, and the situation became even more desperate when Braden Thompson scored to put Sterling ahead 85-82 26 seconds later.
After a timeout, Tabor didn’t need to change much about its strategy because the Bluejays had been matching Sterling’s frenetic pace all night. The ball ended up with Sauer on the left wing and Sauer, who had missed each of his three prior three-point attempts, rattled it in for the tie.
“We don’t shoot the three ball very good, obviously,” Ratzlaff said. “We like to shoot, but we don’t shoot it very well. Nick Sauer can really shoot it – he didn’t shoot it well, but he’s a senior. (Assistant coach Anthony Monson) drew up that play, he’s our X’s and O’s when it comes to stuff like that.
“He drew up a great play, and (Sauer) snuck out and didn’t hesitate, which helped him get it off. And he stroked it.”
Tabor’s biggest shot came from beyond the arc, but the Bluejays were more balanced than Sterling.
Carter was a force from most spots on the floor and helped protect the paint from Sterling’s quick, penetrating guards. The Warriors, meanwhile, nearly took a double-digit lead with three-pointers – and that’s where they lost it, too.
Sterling (25-8) made 8 of its first 13 three-pointers, then missed seven of the next eight to allow Tabor a chance to rally. Sterling got a pair of threes in the final 2:18 of regulation but was unable to pull away.
Carter was Tabor’s steadying point in the middle of Sterling’s surge and he provided stability in overtime, making free throws down the stretch.
“For a freshman, he’s the calmest freshman I’ve ever seen in our program,” Ratzlaff said. “He’s not always the point guy, but literally all season long he has filled up the stat sheet. Tonight, he filled up the stat sheet and he got the points.”
Three-point shooting—Tabor 8-24 (Carter 4-6, Hopkinson 2-7, Biggs 1-3, Sauer 1-4, Thomas 0-1, Nemit 0-1, Smith 0-2); Sterling 11-29 (Alexander 4-9, Thompson 3-6, Swank 2-5, Jaderston 1-1, Givens 1-4, Oyatayo 0-1, Adesodun 0-3). Rebounds—Tabor 42 (Carter 17), Sterling 42 (Swank 7). Fouls—Tabor 22, Sterling 28. Technicals—Ray, Sterling. Assists—Tabor 16 (Biggs 8), Sterling 12 (Thompson, Alexander 3).