DELPHOS – Season-openers can be tough.
Most often, basketball coaches don’t know exactly what to expect.
In the case of the season opener for Delphos St. John’s on Friday night against Midwest Athletic Conference-foe Versailles, there weren’t many secrets.
St. John’s boys basketball coach Aaron Elwer was fully aware of what his team was up against.
Versailles not only had 6-foot, 6-inch Justin Ahrens, who is verbally committed to play at Ohio State, but it also had a solid group of players around Ahrens.
Ahrens, a junior, scored a game-high 24 points and had six rebounds Friday, as Versailles pulled away in the second quarter and never looked back, en route to a convincing 67-54 victory over the Blue Jays at Robert A. Arnzen Gymnasium.
However, Justin Ahrens wasn’t the only Ahrens who wreaked havoc on the Blue Jays Friday night. Justin’s twin brother, AJ, poured in 16 points.
Tim Kreeger, a 6-8 post player for St. John’s, led the Blue Jays with 20 points and five rebounds. Teammate Jared Wurst added 12 points.
“There were a lot of things tonight, not in our favor; maybe mostly was them playing in their third game,” Elwer said. “And with as much experience they have, it’s a big deal. It was definitely an advantage. We would have liked to have had three or four games before we played them. But, it’s the way it worked out.”
After St. John’s jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening seconds of game, on a 3-pointer by Wurst, Versailles came roaring back.
Versailles (3-0, 1-0 MAC) made 8-of-12 shots from the field in the first quarter, and pulled out to a 19-13 lead by the first stop.
In the second quarter, Versailles led by as many as 19 points. At the break, the Tigers led 36-20.
In the third quarter, Versailles got out in transition more often. The Tigers remained hot from the field, connecting on 9-of-16 of their shots as they extended their lead to 55-34 by the end of the quarter.
The Blue Jays struggled in the fourth quarter, hitting just 4-of-15 shots from the floor.
For the game, St. John’s shot 39 percent, while Versailles connected on 55 percent of its field goal attempts.
“They have a lot of skill everywhere,” Elwer said. “They can play inside-outside. And any defensive issue or breakdown that we had, they exploited that. It’s not like us to give up 67 points. We take a lot of pride in that (playing good defense). But, as skilled as they are – and as good offensively as they are – if you’re not locked in defensively and you have some breakdowns, they’re going to take advantage of it.”
Versailles had a 26-23 edge on the boards.
“We have plenty of guys who are capable of putting up double figures every night,” Versailles coach Travis Swank said. “I think it’s going to be a different guy every night for us, depending on the situation. But, they’re starting to believe a little more in the system we put in. They know if they make that extra pass, they will get their opportunities to score.”
Elwer was impressed with Justin Ahren’s performance.
“Maybe the best part of his game is being unselfish and understanding what the defense is doing,” Elwer said. “Obviously, when you try to make things difficult for him and send another guy over, he (Ahrens) has the basketball IQ to find the other guy. We knew that going into it. But, if you don’t do something with him, he’ll make it a difficult night, individually. We started with him, but we understood the other four guys on the floor have the capability to make plays as well.”
Elwer didn’t look at Friday’s loss as a set-back for his experienced squad.
“That was our message to our guys. … It’s the home opener,” Elwer said. “Unfortunately, it’s a league game. But, we’re excited about our group. We have great experience back. Unfortunately, the early part of our schedule is difficult. We’ve got to play well, and our guys understand that. In a course of 22 games, we have great confidence in our guys and we feel really good about what we have in the locker room and us moving forward.”