COLDWATER – Versailles handed Coldwater its first Midwest Athletic Conference loss of the season on Friday and moved atop the league standings.
Versailles beat Coldwater 61-52 to ascend to the top of the MAC. At 6-1 in the league, the Tigers are a half-game ahead of the 5-1 Cavaliers.
“They’re fired up,” Versailles boys basketball coach Scott McEldowney said of his players’ emotions after the game. “They’re really fired up about being able to come here and getting back for a share of the lead in the MAC. It’s just huge for them.”
It was far from an easy win as Versailles trailed by as many as nine points in the first half. But the Tigers handled the adversity well, something Coach McEldowney couldn’t say about them two weeks ago when they lost a MAC game at Fort Recovery.
“I think I’m most proud of the way they conducted themselves tonight,” the Tigers’ coach said. “We kind of had some episodes against Fort Recovery, hostile environment. We kind of had a little bit of that against Russia. We really talked about growing up and making sure we represented the school and the community in the right way, and I just thought they conducted themselves well. They didn’t get rattled. They stayed together with one another. I’m just really proud of that fact to go along with their play tonight.”
Friday’s game began with Versailles and Coldwater matching each other point for point. AJ Ahrens, Alex Wendel, Keaton McEldowney, Austin Knapke and Justin Ahrens all combined for Versailles’ points in the first quarter while the duo of Andy Brunet and Aaron Harlamert scored all of Coldwater’s points, resulting in a 12-12 tie.
The second quarter belonged to Coldwater as the Cavaliers started the period on a 14-5 run to take a nine-point lead. The Cavs’ 6-foot 9-inch center Brunet led the way with eight points while Dylan Thobe and Neal Muhlenkamp also got going offensively for Coldwater.
Trailing 26-17, Versailles finished the half strong. First Knapke sank a pair of free throws and then Justin Ahrens drew a foul on a 3-pointer with just 1.1 seconds remaining and sank all three of his free throw attempts to make it a four-point game, 26-22, at halftime.
“I kept telling them at halftime, I’m like we’re getting some really good shots,” Coach McEldowney said. “Just continue to play defense and rebound like that. They’re going to go in for us. They’re going to go in because I thought we got some good looks in the first half. We just couldn’t buy a basket.”
After Coldwater controlled the second quarter, Versailles dominated the third quarter.
It began with the Ahrens twins both scoring in the opening minute of the second half to tie the game at 26-26.
After Coldwater regained the lead on a Muhlenkamp basket, Brett McEldowney drained a 3-pointer to give Versailles the lead. Justin Ahrens and Knapke both hit a pair of 3s in the quarter as well as the Tigers built a 43-35 advantage.
“The more we can get like that, everybody involved and everybody not scared to step up and shot a basketball like they can … it just gives you different areas,” Coach McEldowney said. “When you’ve got a lot to pick from, as far as shooting some of the outside shots, taking the ball to the basket, those type of things, it’s a nice problem to have.”
Harlamert, who was held scoreless in the second and third quarters after leading Coldwater with eight points in the first, got back on track in the fourth quarter. He started the period with back-to-back 3-pointers to quickly reduce Versailles’ eight-point lead to two. Then with 4:23 remaining Thobe hit a 3-pointer and Coldwater was back on top, 46-45.
Brett McEldowney hit his second 3-pointer of the night to put Versailles ahead with 2:52 remaining, but Harlamert tied the game again at 48-all 18 seconds later with a pair of free throws.
In crunch time Versailles came through.
Knapke put Versailles ahead 50-48 with a basket with 2:06 remaining, and Brett McEldowney scored to widen the lead to four with 1:19 left.
Coldwater had to resort to fouling in the game’s final minute. Brett McEldowney, Connor Custenborder and Wendel combined to hit seven of the final eight free throws for the Tigers, who were 15 of 19 overall from the charity stripe, to keep Coldwater at bay.
“What was great to see is some kids toward the end in those clutch situations that aren’t always easy to step up and make free throws, we had guys step up to hit free throws,” Coach McEldowney said. “Even guys off the bench who were good free throw shooters that we subbed in came through and stepped in and put the game out of reach.”
Versailles closed out the game with an emphatic Justin Ahrens dunk, giving the Tigers a 61-52 victory and moving them into first place in the MAC.
“The kids played extremely well tonight,” Coach McEldowney said. “Wow. It’s a contest back and forth. We got hot at the right time.”
Justin Ahrens led Versailles with a game-high 21 points. Also for the Tigers, Knapke scored 14 points, Brett McEldowney scored 12, Justin Ahrens scored seven, Wendel scored three, Custenborder scored two, and Keaton McEldowney scored two.
Brunet led Coldwater with 20 points in the loss. Also for the Cavaliers, Harlamert scored 18 points, Thobe scored eight, and Muhlenkamp scored six.
Versailles improved to 13-5 overall and 6-1 in the MAC with the win while Coldwater fell to 10-5 overall and 5-1 in the MAC. Versailles has conference games against Delphos St. John’s and Minster remaining as it seeks to clinch at least a share of the MAC championship.
“They know they’re back to where they control their own destiny,” Coach McEldowney said. “I did remind them we do play a game tomorrow night (at Franklin Monroe) so you know we’ve got to get our heads on right and continue this, continue this climb of being the best team we can be.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.