Tigers show their resolve in comeback win as Coby Williams is named MVP
No lead was safe when Versailles met Cole Camp in the championship game of the Stover Tournament Saturday night.
In a rematch of last year’s title game, the momentum swayed heavily. An 18-point advantage disappeared by halftime for one side and a 9-point lead in the third quarter quickly evaporated for the other.
While the final outcome hung in the balance, what was unmistakably clear is that Versailles had some resiliency and it was on full display Saturday night as the Tigers defended their Stover Tournament title with a 71-69 win over Cole Camp in a rematch of last year’s championship.
“We are tired, we are happy and could not be more excited about that,” Versailles senior Brayden Morrison said.
After Versailles senior Coby Williams scored the game’s opening bucket for an early 2-0 lead, Cole Camp responded with 20 unanswered points to build an 18-point gap for its largest lead of the night. In fact, the Tigers would not score another point until Morrison hit a pair of free throws with 23 seconds left in the opening frame.
But this one was far from over and Williams and his teammates knew it.
“You are always in the game no matter what. No matter what the score is, you are always in the game and you can make a comeback like we just did tonight,” the senior said.
Despite a rusty start offensively, Versailles did manage to get in the bonus in the first quarter with an aggressive offensive attack that put a few Bluebirds in early foul trouble. Shots began to fall in the second and the fullcourt zone press started to take its toll on the Bluebirds as nearly half of the team’s 20 total turnovers came in the second quarter alone.
This all led to a 31-14 run in the second frame that gave Versailles a 35-34 halftime advantage. When the Tigers took the lead for the first time with 10 seconds remaining before the break, they never trailed the rest of the night.
“Mentally we stayed in the game and tried not to panic. Especially early, the style we like to play, you are never out of it,” Versailles coach Jason Ollison noted as he made some adjustments to the press that also led to some good opportunities on the offensive end.
“It made all the difference in the world.”
Ollison said one of the keys on defense was eliminating easy passes and forcing Cole Camp’s guards to dribble through the press. All it took was a little effort and the coach was quick to credit his players.
“It all starts in practice,” Williams pointed out. “Coach tells us to ramp it up. If we don’t, we have to run. It is the kind of mindset we have going into every game.”
The momentum continued early in the third quarter as Versailles opened with eight unanswered points to start the second half and extend its lead to nine points. It was not enough to put the Bluebirds away, though, as they cut the gap to a single point by the start of the fourth.
In the final eight minutes Cole Camp tied the game up six different times, but could not get a stop defensively and retake the lead.
The Bluebirds had to climb back from a 5-point gap after Morrison hit a 3-pointer and forced a quick turnover for a layup with two minutes remaining. With the game tied at 66 under a minute left, Williams found an opening, drove to the basket for a 3-point play and triumphantly yelled with emotion as the ball fell through the net. His ensuing free throw gave Versailles the lead with 40 seconds on the clock and another Cole Camp turnover was followed by a Williams’ layup that helped put the game out of reach.
Williams finished the night with 37 points to lead all scorers and was later awarded All-Tournament and Tournament MVP honors. He scored 16 of those points in the second quarter to fuel the early comeback and knocked down another 13 in the fourth to help the Tigers close out strong.
“It is my teammates setting me up. They set me good screens and they are all spot-up shooters so they (defense) have to respect them too and it gets me open as well,” the senior pointed out. “It is all a team effort.”
And while Williams may have some humility, he also has a competitive edge. There was a play in the second quarter that led to blood gushing down the senior’s face and the tone of the game changed when he was able to return to the floor.
“They kind of ‘poked the bear’ there and got him focused in. He was settling early for some jump shots and was not really doing what he does,” Ollison recalled. “After that, he got settled in. He is a heck of a competitor and one of those guys you love to have on your team. We are real lucky to have him but the other guys understanding and playing with him, doing things and contributing- one on five he would not be very good. Proud of those guys for coming out there and playing the way they do.”
Morrison knocked down 12 points for Versailles, senior Quinn Randall finished with seven and both juniors Austin Zolecki and Seth Newton added six each. Morrison and Zolecki were also named to the All-Tournament team.
“Brayden had a heck of a tournament. He came up with big plays the other night against Dixon and he came up with a couple of huge plays tonight,” Ollison stated. “He was the difference maker in this tournament for us and makes it harder for them to throw two or three guys at Coby. I cannot say enough about Austin and Quinn, too, because they do the same thing. They just force those guys to honor them.
“Credit to those guys and the hard work and time they put in. We roll guys off the bench for energy and they come in and hit shots here and there that helps us, too.”
The Bluebirds were able to hit a late 3-pointer to get within two with four seconds remaining, but a final fullcourt heave at the buzzer after a missed Versailles free throw did not reach its destination and the Tigers won their fourth straight game.
Versailles (6-4) will head to Tri-County Conference play with some momentum as the team gets ready for the opener against Boonville on Tuesday at 5 p.m. Ollison said going forward that the team needs to clean up a few things with the press to avoid starts like Saturday night, but there are a few things to be pleased with as well.
“As far as effort, intensity and the fight these guys have, I could not ask for more. If we continue that this season, we are going to have a successful year,” he said.