NEW BREMEN – Versailles dominated the second half Friday night, which propelled the Tigers to a 60-41 win in their Midwest Athletic Conference opener at New Bremen.
After leading by just one point at halftime, Versailles outscored New Bremen 30-12 in the second half to claim the conference victory.
“It’s extremely important,” Versailles boys basketball coach Scott McEldowney said of winning the conference game. “For one I hope it really does sink in and let these guys know that when you come off the bus on the road in the MAC you’d better be ready to step on the floor and play. People are going to scrap and fight, and you’re going to take people’s best shots, and they prepare for you well. On any given night if the ball doesn’t go in and it goes in more for them, a lot of teams in this league will make you pay.”
The first half was a back-and-forth battle with neither team being able to take control.
Versailles struck first with a Justin Ahrens basket, but New Bremen responded with eight consecutive points of a Kaelen Reed field goal and 3-pointers by Reed and Ben Schwieterman to make it 8-2 in favor of the Cardinals, which ultimately was their largest lead of the night.
Led by seven first quarter points from Alex Wendel plus scoring from Keaton McEldowney, AJ Ahrens and Justin Ahrens, Versailles fought back to reclaim at 16-14 lead at the end of the opening quarter.
Versailles added to its lead early in the second quarter with scoring from Keaton McEldowney, Brett McEldowney and Connor Custenborder to go up by four points, 23-19, which matched the Tigers’ largest first half lead.
New Bremen tied the game at 23 and then reclaimed the lead at 28-27 late in the half. Versailles went into the locker room ahead, however, with AJ Ahrens and Austin Knapke keeping the Tigers close and Justin Ahrens draining a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final seconds of the half.
Even though his team had the lead at halftime, Coach McEldowney wasn’t particularly happy with his team – especially the Tigers’ defense.
“We’ve got to learn to play man-to-man defense,” he said. “I mean it’s as simple as that. I think we’re capable, but you know we didn’t play very well man-to-man defense. We fouled an awful lot. We talked about that. Our aggressive style, we’re going to foul a little bit, but we’ve got to get rid of those silly ones that are obvious calls. Those are the ones that are really killing us.”
The second half started out just as tight as the first half with New Bremen matching Versailles’ scoring to tie the game at 31-31 and then 33-33.
But with Versailles not having anyone in big foul trouble, the Tigers were able to switch up their defense, which helped them shut down New Bremen for the remainder of the third quarter. They closed the period on a 14-0 run with points from Keaton McEldowney, AJ Ahrens, Custenborder, Knapke and Justin Ahrens giving Versailles a 47-33 lead.
“We got out of the first half where everybody had only two fouls or less so let’s mix it up a little bit,” Coach McEldowney said. “Our zone trap is really good. It led to a lot of breaks, and that’s when these guys are at their best. They share the ball so well in transition like that. So we were able to put up a lot of points.”
The defensive pressure continued to work in the fourth quarter as the Tigers started that period on a 9-2 run with Justin Ahrens and Keaton McEldowney leading the way offensively to a 56-35 advantage. With the Tigers subbing in players off their bench in the final minutes, New Bremen added six more points while Brett McEldowney and Cole Niekamp finished off the Tiger scoring in a 60-41 victory.
“We tried to drive and play a little too quick in the first half,” Coach McEldowney said of Versailles’ improvement from the first half to the second half. “We actually got some ball movement. They do a nice job of sharing the ball with one another.”
Justin Ahrens led Versailles with a game-high 14 points in the victory. Also for the Tigers, Keaton McEldowney scored 13 points, AJ Ahrens scored eight, Brett McEldowney scored seven, Wendel scored seven, Custenborder scored five, Knapke scored four, and Niekamp scored two.
Greg Parker led New Bremen with 13 points in the loss. Also for the Cardinals, Deion Hoehne scored nine points, Reed scored nine, Schwieterman scored five, Eric Bowers scored two, Max Messick scored two, and Brandon Heitkamp scored one.
Versailles improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the MAC with Friday’s win while New Bremen fell to 0-3 overall and 0-1 in the MAC.
Versailles will return to action at 6:30 p.m. 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.