Tigers unable to overcome rough first quarter in third place game

If Versailles had the option to discount any quarter of their choosing, Saturday’s third place game of the Tri-County Conference Tournament against Boonville would have been a perfect time to do so in an 89-77 loss to the Pirates.  

In the first eight minutes the Tigers coughed up 12 turnovers in the face of heavy fullcourt man pressure and Boonville promptly took advantage, starting the game on a 9-0 run. After Versailles cut the gap to five points, an 18-3 Boonville run ensued and the Tigers were quickly tasked with overcoming a 20-point deficit.  

In the final 24 minutes Versailles ran with Boonville, matching every point in the second quarter and the Tigers outscored the Pirates by two in the final two frames. Boonville even finished the game with one more turnover than Versailles with a total of 28, but the Tigers could never cut the lead by any more than 12 points.

The reality, obviously, is that all four quarters will always count. 

“That has been the last two nights,” Versailles coach Jason Ollison said of his team’s experience in the conference tournament on home floor where the Tigers entered as the fifth seed and knocked off No. 4 Hallsville before succumbing to top seed Blair Oaks and the No. 3 Pirates. 

“We came out a little bit slow offensively and our defense is not where it needs to be at the beginning of the game, which is hard to be where you need to at the beginning. That is something we have to fix. We have got to figure out a way to be right at our peak when the game comes out because offensively we are not getting what we need to early so defensively we have to make up for it.”

The only thing Versailles could do was try to chip away and some fullcourt man pressure enforced by the Tigers from tipoff to the final buzzer certainly helped. Miscues and execution are one thing, but heart and effort certainly did not seem to be lacking.

“We are not going to quit. We got too many guys in there that compete and if they decide they want t take a play or two off we’ll get somebody in there for them because I have a bunch of guys that work just as hard on the bench,” Ollison pointed out. “That leads us to hold ourselves accountable for things and it is real easy for us then to come out and play hard. We know if we don’t, we may not get to play for a while. It is a testament to how hard everyone works on our team.” 

The team trailed by 16 at the break and got a spark from returning All-State senior Coby Williams’ team-leading 12 points while fellow senior Brayden Morrison had 10. 

That theme continued in the final two quarters as Williams finished with 37 points followed by Morrison’s 12 and senior Austin Zolecki added eight points in the effort. As much as it may seem Versailles was heavily relying on Williams to create things offensively, 10 different players got on the scoresheet and that may be an encouraging sign moving forward.

“There is nobody that wants these guys to score more than Coby because he understands that for us to win in the playoffs, it is going to take more than one guy. He’s guiding and leading them along, trying to get them involved,” Ollison said. “Brayden and Austin stepped up a bunch and Quinn (Randall) is doing his thing defensively and protecting our rim by taking charges. 

“I was real proud of the way Mike Bell played tonight. I really thought he came out and gave us some things he has not given us yet and that is exciting.”  

Versailles (1-3) will move back to its non-conference slate hosting Smithton Tuesday night, but fourth place in the conference tournament is not such a bad way to start. 

“That was one of our early goals to finish in the top half of this tournament. The guys came out against Hallsville and made that happen,” Ollison said of the eight-team gathering. “We gave Blair Oaks a good run and we just gave Boonville a really good run. 

“For us to be knocking on the door in the top three is really exciting for us. It is not where we want to be finish, but better than we’ve been finishing. It is baby steps to get where we want to be.”  

One thing the Tigers will look to certainly clean up as this journey continues is defense with the team giving up an average of 88.3 points per game while scoring 78.8 through the first four contests. Ollison said it starts with the press and he commended his club’s efforts on Saturday in the way they “moved their feet and guarded without putting hands on people.” 

“As long as that continues our rebounding needs to improve but that is always going to be a thing when you don’t have a guy over 6-foot-1 and we are not shooting the ball as good as we can,” the coach pointed out, noting he expects that to improve once the football players get more used to being on the hardwood again after a run to the district semifinals.

“We still have guys that have been throwing the pigskin around a little bit so we get them used to handling a basketball gain and our shooting is going to improve too.”