While it’s still early to be talking about the state tournament, the Versailles Tigers left no doubt Wednesday night that they have to be in the conversation of top Div. III teams in the state.
Versailles – Well, that was impressive.
The Versailles Tigers, playing for the first time since suffering their only loss of the season last week to Dunbar, put on a dominating performance at both ends of the floor for 16 minutes, and routed the Anna Rockets 69-46.
Anna came in at 5-2, winners of three straight and five of six. The Rockets, however, made one two-point shot in the FIRST HALF, while Versailles shot 63% from the floor and 67% behind the arc in the first half. The result: Versailles 47, Anna 23.
“Our ball movement tonight was tremendous,” said Tigers first year head coach Travis Swank. “We put in a little wrinkle this year with more motion offense, and it wasn’t pretty at the start of the season. The kids have continued to work at it and I think it is starting to pay some dividends for us on the court.
“We got a little stale in the second half, but we feel like we can be a tough out for someone down the line if we move the basketball. When we do that, we are hard to defend because we feel like we have a lot of guys that can contribute on the offensive end of the floor.”
To Anna’s credit, the Rockets never stopped playing for coach Nate Barhorst, but never got closer than 19 in the second half.
The first quarter was a sign of things to come. Justin Ahrens scored ten points in the quarter and Versailles hit 4 treys to build a 26-12 advantage.
It got tougher for the Rockets in the second quarter. The Tigers hit their first 8 shots of the quarter, including 4 treys, to blow the Rockets out of the gym. It was 47-18 before the Tigers missed a shot from the field, and the issue was decided.
Playing before a big crowd, Justin Ahrens was terrific for the Tigers. The 6-6 junior, hit five threes on the night and finished with a game high 25 points. AJ Ahrens added 13, and Connor Custenborder and Alex Wendel finished with 10 for Versailles.
“Our shots were falling, that’s for sure,” said the personable Ahrens. “We didn’t hit all of our goals. We want to hold teams under 40 points, but that’s something we will shoot for next time.
“Our offense is based on UCLA’s, and we just feed off of each other. It’s a lot of fun when everyone is involved and we are sharing the basketball.”
Anna got another outstanding performance from Wyatt Bensman. The 6-2 junior, who scored 28 points in a win over Russia two weeks ago, scored 21 to pace the Rockets. Mason Platfoot hit a trio of threes in the opening quarter and finished the night with 13.
Both teams cleaned their benches midway through the fourth quarter, but the Tigers still finished the night at 58% from the floor and 63% from the arc on 12 of 19 shooting. With all that marksmanship from the perimeter, the Tigers only went to the line three times, making 1.
The Rockets, meanwhile, shot 36% from the floor, and only 27% on two point shots. The Rockets were a respectable 7 of 17 from the arc for 41%, and made 9 of 12 from the line for 75%.
Versailles dominated the glass 27-18 and committed just one first half turnover before finishing with 8. Anna turned it 11 times.
The Tigers accomplished all that despite missing starter Austin Knapke. The 6-3 senior turned an ankle in practice, and may be available Friday when the Tigers head to Miami East.
“That’s a big loss for us,” Ahrens acknowledged about his senior teammate. “He’ll bounce back and hopefully be back soon. He is definitely someone that we are going to need as the season goes along. I felt like we played to the best of our abilities without him tonight.
“Coach has been preaching defense, defense, defense. We feel like we can score on anybody, especially when we share the ball. Sometimes we get a little selfish, but overall, we are an unselfish team. We just need to gets stops on defense.”
The Tigers schedule is loaded, and Swank said his team will have plenty of chances to prove itself.
“We go to Miami East Friday, and that is never an easy place to go play. We have Parkway and Franklin Monroe, and both of them are improved. Then we have Fort Loramie, which is unbeaten, and Russia, which is an arch rival, and the rest of the MAC schedule. So there are going to be challenges.”
Swank talked about being a first year head coach at a program with the tradition of Versailles.
“I think the fact that I have been in the program, and I teach here and see the kids every day, has made the transition a fairly smooth one. There are a lot of additional things you have to do as a head coach, and that’s been the biggest learning experience for me. As a coach or a player, you have to learn every day, and that’s what I’m doing.
The coach said the Tigers are far from a finished product.
“We are always a work in progress. We can always get better. You can never rest on your laurels, because when you do that, someone is going to beat you. There are some things defensively that we didn’t do very well tonight, and some things offensively we still didn’t do very well. You can’t be happy, even after a big win. You have to keep working at it every day.”