HILLSBORO — The boxing legend Muhammad Ali was famous for the "rope-a-dope" where he would lean back on the ropes and allow his opponent to punch himself out.
While not the intentional strategy for the Bethel College men’s basketball team, the Threshers played with a similar effect in a 77-72 win over rival Tabor in KCAC play Friday in Hillsboro.
The Threshers took Tabor’s best shots for the first three quarters of the game, rallying from a 21-point deficit before charging back late for the win.
"I knew that we had played absolutely terrible," Bethel coach Jayson Artaz said. "Then when we cut it down to 11 or 12 right before the half, it felt like, ‘Man, we played about as bad as we can and we’re only down 12. It’s going to take clawing and scratching to get back into it. It didn’t feel like we’re out of it."
Jaylon Scott led Bethel with 28 points, hitting 8 of 14 from the field and 10 of 16 from the line. Bryant Mocaby added 14 points.
"In the first half, we struggled, but stayed with it," Scott said. "We were like ‘we’ve been here before.’ We’re fighters and we weren’t going to quit. This game means a lot to everybody, not just us. It meant a lot to our alumni. This game was bigger than us."
Down by seven with 1:26 to play, Scott hit a layup, followed by a three-point play set up by a Mocaby steal. Scott then stole the ball and hit a 3-pointer with 52 seconds remaining to give Bethel a lead it would not relinquish.
Harper Jonas hit four free throws and Scott added two more in the final 27 seconds to preserve the win.
"We got the steal to give me the and-one," Scott said. "Then defensively, I just gambled and made a play. I took the shot there and it went in. I took a risk and it paid off."
"They looked a little tired down the stretch and Jaylon did a great job of getting down hill. He was hard to guard tonight. He made a couple of jump shots."
"Jalyn Todd and Harper Jonas are freshmen. To be in the biggest moment that they’ve been through in a long time and make some big-time plays, as freshmen, that’s huge. They have super-bright futures ahead of them."
Tabor, 3-2 overall and 1-2 in KCAC play, was led by Andre Nelson with 21 points. Noah Brown IV scored 14 points. Leon Marcikic scored 13 points. Bobby Shanks scored 11 points with 15 rebounds.
Down 13-9, Bethel gave up a 13-0 run. The Threshers went nearly 6 1/2 minutes without scoring in the run. Bethel trailed by 21 with 3:47 left in the half, but got within 10 in the final minute. A Brown VI layup with four seconds left in the half put Tabor up 39-27 at intermission.
"We just had to get stops," Scott said.
"We were giving up easy buckets in transition. At halftime, we just got back to our principals. We came out and played harder. We were tougher tonight."
Bethel drew within seven early in the second half. Down by 10, Jalyn Todd hit a three-point play, followed by a dunk.
Tabor got back out by as many as 11 on a Marcikic three-point play with 3:57 in regulation. Shanks followed with a layup on a long rebound for the Bluejays.
Bethel finished the game on a 21-6 run.
Bethel is 3-3, 3-2 in KCAC play. Bethel’s game Tuesday at Sterling was postponed. Bethel plays at 7 p.m. Nov. 28 at Kansas Wesleyan. Bethel fell to the Coyotes 71-68 on Nov. 13 in North Newton.
"We need the break to get my legs back," Scott said. "Then we need to get back to it, get back to work."
"We tried to find another game in the conference, but everybody’s dealing with the COVID right now," Artaz said. "We get a quick turnaround going against (Kansas Wesleyan) again. They took it to us the last time we played them. We know we have a tough challenge. I hope we can play better in the first half then we did today."