CLAYTON – After Miami East made the game-winning free throws with just 2.7 seconds remaining to defeat Versailles 51-49, Scott McEldowney was upset with how the game’s final seconds were officiated.
Just minutes before Versailles was whistled for a foul and Damien Mackesy drained the winning free throws, Justin Ahrens drew contact without Miami East being charged with a foul. That sequence left Coach McEldowney feeling sour about what he said had been a well-played and well-officiated game up to that point.
“I thought both teams played really well,” the Versailles boys basketball coach said. “I thought the kids should have decided it whether Mackesy hits an incredible shot to win it or we go into overtime, we’re playing again. But that feels like we got cheated and our kids got cheated.”
The game came down to the line after Versailles and Miami East battled back and forth throughout Saturday’s Ohio High School Athletic Association sectional championship game at Northmont High School.
The teams entered the fourth quarter tied and were still tied with just over a minute remaining.
After calling a timeout with 1:10 left, Versailles spent the next 50 seconds setting up a final shot.
With time winding down Justin Ahrens saw an opportunity and drove to the basket. After drawing contact, he put up a shot that bounced off the rim, and East got the rebound with just over 15 seconds left.
“We still say if people are putting that much pressure on you of course you’ll always take a layup so still be aggressive, be smart about it,” Coach McEldowney said. “Justin made an aggressive move and a couple guys around him … seemed like there was contact there. But I told him something to learn is a lot of times it’s got to be a really decisive foul at the end of the game because they don’t want to decide the game like that.”
While he didn’t object to the referees not calling a foul on Miami East, what happened moments later had Coach McEldowney feeling cheated.
After using a couple timeouts to set up a final play, the Vikings got the ball to Mackesy, the Cross County Conference boys basketball player of the year, and he drove in and drew a foul with less than three seconds left. Mackesy drained both free throws, breaking the tie and giving Miami East a two-point win.
“To let the game be decided on a foul that was very minimal at the end of the game is a bunch of crap,” Coach McEldowney said. “I don’t understand that one. I mean he decided that game at the end on a very marginal call. I’d have to see the tape but I don’t see nearly enough contact to put somebody on the line at the end of the game like that.”
The close ending seemed inevitable with neither team gaining more than a seven-point advantage at any point in the game.
Versailles was hot from the outside in the first quarter, hitting five 3-pointers in the opening quarter beginning with one by Justin Ahrens. Brett McEldowney, who led the way with 11 points in the first eight minutes, made three of those outside shots including the final one of the quarter to give the Tigers a 17-16 lead.
Miami East, on the other hand, got a lot of its points by attacking inside.
“We got hurt a little bit on the offensive boards, which killed us,” Coach McEldowney said.
With Versailles starting to get its inside game going and Brett McEldowney hitting his fourth 3-pointer of the night, the Tigers increased their lead to a game-high seven points, 27-20, midway through the second quarter.
But from there Miami East ended the half on a 13-5 run to go into halftime up 33-32 on Versailles.
“We shot the ball pretty well, especially (Brett McEldowney), and felt like we really could have extended that lead,” Coach McEldowney said. “We just got into foul trouble. We felt like, with the lead, things were still going OK. We rested those kids, and they were able to climb right back in it before half instead of us going on a little more run and maybe putting the game away.”
The Vikings increased their lead to five points early in the third quarter before Justin Ahrens led the Tigers on an 8-0 run to go up 41-38. The Vikings then got back on track and tied the game 41-41 by the end of the period.
Justin Ahrens put Versailles ahead early in the fourth then Mackesy and Logan West battled to put East on top. Ahrens then drained a 3-pointer to regain the lead, and Mackesy tied it again at 49-49 to set up the controversial finish.
Mackesy led Miami East with a game-high 22 points. Also for the Vikings, West scored 14 points, Braxton Donaldson scored five, Ryan Haney scored five, Brandon Mack scored three, and Michael Werling scored two.
Justin Ahrens led Versailles with 20 points. Also for the Tigers, Brett McEldowney scored 14 points, AJ Ahrens scored five, Austin Knapke scored five, and Keaton McEldowney scored five.
Versailles, the Midwest Athletic Conference champion, finished the season 18-7 overall. Saturday’s loss also marked the end of the high school basketball careers of Versailles’ two seniors – Brett McEldowney and Jared Niekamp.
“We were hoping to get one more (win) to get a chance to play at (the University of Dayton) for these seniors and this young team and get a chance to go play for a district title,” Coach McEldowney said.