VERSAILLES – A dominating defensive effort led the Versailles boys basketball team to a 48-30 victory against Delphos St. John’s in the Tigers’ Midwest Athletic Conference opener on Friday.
Versailles held St. John’s, a semifinalist in last season’s Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV state tournament, to just 9 points in the first half Friday night.
“Our hands were just everywhere,” Versailles coach Travis Swank said. “We made a lot of deflections, we got a lot of loose balls, it felt like a lot of steals and that’s what we need to bring. Defense can’t take off during games. Offense sometimes is not always going to be there, and it really wasn’t tonight. We had some good spurts here and there, but you know we were forcing some stuff on offense. But defense has to be lights out all the time.”
Versailles led throughout the game Friday night with the Tigers taking a quick 6-0 lead with baskets by AJ Ahrens and Keaton McEldowney then a big dunk by Justin Ahrens. St. John’s was only able to score 4 points the entire quarter off one basket and a pair of free throws as the Tigers built a 10-4 lead on the Blue Jays.
“A lot of energy, a lot of effort,” Swank said. “I don’t know how many deflections we had in the first quarter and throughout the whole game, but it sure did feel like a lot.”
Versailles’ defensive dominance continued into the second quarter as the Tigers held St. John’s to just 5 points in the period. Meanwhile the Tiger offense picked up the tempo and scored 19 points in the frame to go into halftime leading 29-9.
Justin Ahrens, who finished the night with five assists, drew a lot of defensive pressure to set up his teammates for easy baskets.
“Teams are going to concentrate on Justin,” Swank said. “We do know that coming into games. Our guys are ready to move and cut off of that. As you saw, he had sometimes three, four guys collapse on him, and our guys were just back cutting in behind them from where they were coming and getting layups. So we had 24 points, I think, off of layups in the first half.”
After a dominating first half, Versailles began to slow down in the third quarter. St. John’s outscored Versailles 10-6 in the third quarter to reduce its deficit to 35-19 as turnovers became an issue for the Tigers.
“A lot of them were unforced really,” Swank said. “We were just trying to calm everybody down. We’re still a young team. I know we’ve got some guys back from last year’s team, but we’re really young still as far as experience-wise goes. Really only three guys that have ever played varsity minutes so you’re going to have that.”
The Tigers, who led by at least 13 points throughout the entire second half, started to get back on track in the fourth quarter and outscored the Blue Jays 13-11 in the period to win by 18 points, 48-30.
AJ Ahrens led Versailles with a game-high 15 points on Friday.
“He’s gotta be a force on both ends of the floor for us this year, even more than what he was last year,” Swank said. “He does so many good things for us. He can guard so many different positions because he’s quick enough to guard a guard and he’s big enough and strong enough to take a post player.”
Also for the Tigers, Justin Ahrens scored 14 points, McEldowney scored 7, Evan Hiestand scored 4, Michael Stammen scored 4, Noah Richard scored 3, and Andrew DeMange scored 1.
Jared Wurst, one of two returning starters from last year’s state final four team, led St. John’s with 9 points on Friday. Also for the Blue Jays, Richard Cocuzza scored 7 points, Collin Will scored 7, Brady Parrish scored 3, Brady Grothaus scored 2, and Curtis Schwinnen scored 2.
Versailles improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the MAC with Friday’s win while St. John’s fell to 2-1 overall and 0-1 in the MAC. The Tigers will return to action on Saturday at Covington.
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.