VERSAILLES – The fans were treated to some overtime basketball in the closing semifinal of the Versailles Holiday Tournament Tuesday evening.
The host Tigers, sparked by Justin Ahrens’ game-high 28 points and eight clutch points by Brett McEldowney, prevailed over a tough Anna Rockets squad 62-54.
“Give them credit,” Versailles boys basketball coach Scott McEldowney said. “They are a pretty good basketball team. They play great defense on you. They’re a good basketball team and not to make an excuse … a lot of times you come out first game after Christmas and the first is an ugly type game. It was a scrappy, ugly type game, and then typically you settle in.”
Both teams seemed to suffer from the holiday layoff with a sluggish first quarter. The defenses would control the games early. Versailles, using a 2-2-1 full-court press, disrupted the Rockets’ offensive flow, and a hard working Anna man-to-man defense controlled the Tigers’ attack.
In the final two minutes of the period it looked like Versailles might begin to pull away. Justin Ahrens had a nice driving field goal, followed by a break-out jam that gave the Tigers a 10-5 lead, but Anna fought back on a tip in by team-high scorer 6-foot 6-inch senior Cody Flesher and a press breaker basket to shrink the Versailles lead to 10-9 after one quarter.
Now the offenses began to find some momentum. With 5:11 left until halftime Keaton McEldowney sank two free throws that gave the Tigers a 17-15 lead. They would not lead again until less than three minutes left in the overtime session.
Anna went on a 10-2 run over the next two minutes that vaulted the Rockets into the lead at 25-19. The Rockets would convert 8 of 10 foul shots in the period to push them to a 30-26 lead at the break.
The coaches must have preached defense during the halftime speeches as the teams combined for only 17 points in the period. AJ Ahrens gave Versailles a great lift off the bench in the later stages of the quarter. He scored two inside field goals and did good work on the boards underneath the basket. Going into the fourth period Anna led 38-35.
As hard as the Tigers tried they could not draw even with the Rockets early on in the fourth quarter. Buckets by the Ahrens brothers and Brett McEldowney could only draw them as close as one point.
When Anna’s Nathan Frilling drilled a 3-pointer and Carter Huelskamp made a free throw to give the Rockets a 48-44 lead with 2:33 left in regulation it began to look like Anna may just hold on.
The Tigers got an Alex Wendel field goal with 1:42 left. Defensively, they got a stop. Justin Ahrens scored for Versailles with 1:15 remaining, making it 48-48.
Blake Stephens for the Rockets retaliated, giving them the lead back at 50-48. With 44.9 seconds left Justin Ahrens was fouled on a drive and sank both free throws to tie the game at 50.
After an Anna timeout with 30.3 seconds to go the Rockets worked the ball for the final shot. Versailles played excellent defense, not giving up the opportunity that the Rockets were looking for and finally causing a travelling violation with 2.8 seconds left. A Versailles desperation shot fell short and the game went to overtime.
Anna would score four points at the foul line in the first minute and would not score again. Versailles finally retook the lead on a Brett McEldowney trey, 55-54, and never looked back.
The Tigers used changing defenses to confuse the Rockets alternating between a two-three zone and their usual man to man.
“Sometimes,” Coach McEldowney said, “giving them a different look toward the tail end makes them a bit uncomfortable and shook out some turnovers until they settle down. Makes a difference in the game.”
The Versailles defense surrendered only 11 points in the final 9:24 of the game while the Tigers would score 21 themselves. The Tigers closed out the game on an 8-0 run.
Versailles raised its season record to 8-1 with the victory. The Tigers will play Chaminade Julienne, who defeated Miami East 63-52, in the championship game.
Anna – 54
Frilling 12, Bensman 10, Huelskamp 6, Luthman 8, Stephens 2, Flesher 16.
Versailles – 62
Knapke 3, Niekamp 2, K McEldowney 6, Wendel 7, J Ahrens 28, B McEldowney 8, AJ Ahrens 8.
3-pointers: A: 3 (Frilling 2, Bensman); Vers: 4 (B McEldowney 2, Wendel, J Ahrens).
Free throws: A:15-18; Vers:8-10.