LINDSBORG — You got the sense after their game Saturday at Hahn Gym that Tabor College’s Bluejays felt like they had just clinched the KCAC title after outlasting the Bethany College Swedes, 81-71.
The Bluejays moved to 13-3 in the KCAC, while dropping Bethany into third place at 11-5.
Saint Mary is still there at 12-4, but the Spires and Bluejays have finished their season series.
To boot, Tabor is home for its final two regular-season games this week, a gym where it hasn’t lost a KCAC game this year.
Tabor and Bethany showed why they are clearly the two-most athletic teams in the KCAC as the game was played well above the rim and featured several monster dunks, especially by Tabor’s Andrew Thomas and Bethany’s Cody Harris.
The Swedes actually did a relatively good job on Thomas (10 points) and standout Lance Carter (15), but it was Malik Brooks who did the damage.
Brooks, who scored two points in the first half, had a personal 15-point run in the second half and wound up with 20 for the game as it was his shooting that kept the Bluejays in control while Thomas and Carter fought foul trouble.
“They played extremely well offensively, especially that first half,” said Bethany coach Clair Oleen, whose team is now 19-8 overall with a week left to play. “We felt like at halftime that we had probably weathered the storm (down just 41-34, despite Tabor shooting 59 percent). We really thought we could get some defensive stops in the second half, ... but we didn’t have our typical aggressive patience (on the offensive end).”
The Swedes’ triangle offense basically was abandoned once they got down and they wound up firing some wild 3-pointers, finishing the game just 4 of 20. Oleen said the poor shot selection “wasn’t typical Bethany basketball” and probably led to its undoing.
Harris led the Swedes with 19 points including some skywalking slams, but was just 3 of 11 from 3-point and like his other teammates, showed some fatigue late. Gary Jones scored 15 and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Larry McLin added 13, most of those coming late. Oleen basically used only six players, while the Bluejays bench seemed infinite as 13 players saw clock.
Bethany has a chance to move into a second-place tie on Thursday when it hosts Saint Mary. The Spires won the earlier meeting in Leavenworth.
Bethany (71) — Jones 15, McLin 13, Harris 19, Coleman 9, Smith 5, Gidson 8, Huskey 2.
Tabor (81) — Thomas 10, Carter 15, Jeneak 4, Nemit 3, Brooks 20, Biggs 13, LeBlanc 6, Sims 3, Arck 5, Gibson 2.
• TABOR WOMEN 69, BETHANY 31 — The Swedes shot an unsightly 14 of 54 from the field and after the game was tied at 10, Tabor closed the final 12 minutes on a 23-4 run as Bethany couldn’t throw it in the ocean.
Tabor’s defense allowed just 69 points in two games this week as this was a battle of the KCAC’s best team against the worst. Tabor is 13-3 and a game up on Southwestern heading into the final week of play while Bethany was knocked out of the playoffs with the loss as it’s now 2-14 in the KCAC, 3-25 overall.
The Swedes host Saint Mary on Thursday.
Tabor (69) — Dean 7, Loewen 11, Short 4, Zuercher 10, Troxell 7, Maxwell 8, Hurd 5, Wilgers 9, Peterson 4, Janzen 4.
Bethany (31) — Davis 4, Shields 10, Chanco 8, Cleveland 2, Jackson 5, Burnett 2.