Versailles comeback effort comes up short against California

Michael Losch
Lake Sun Leader
Versailles junior Justin Hamrick rises up for a layup with a California defender in pursuit on Friday, January 22, in Versailles. Hamrick led the Tigers with 23 points.

The comeback was nearly complete at Versailles Friday night. 

Trailing California by as many as 21 points in the third quarter and facing a 20-point gap to start the fourth, the Tigers nearly erased that deficit in a 99-93 loss to the Pintos.

In the style of play Versailles utilizes- subbing five players in and out every few minutes, running a full court press and quickly getting shots up on the offensive end with many of them being 3-pointers- the Tigers nearly showed why no lead may truly be safe for their opponents.

“That is what we keep preaching to them. Proud of the effort tonight,” Versailles coach Jason Ollison said after the Tri-County Conference battle with the Pintos. “We came out in that fourth quarter and really just let it go. We have to figure out a way to do that in the first three quarters and that is on me. I just have to figure out a way to explain it to them so they understand the intensity required. Proud of them, they fought real hard.” 

The Tigers were sparked by an 8-0 run near the start of the final quarter that eventually turned into the team scoring 24 of the next 32 points to cut a 20-point deficit to just four points with 2:09 remaining in the game. Versailles had opportunities to complete the comeback, but could not find a way to get any closer and finish it.

As Ollison noted, a comeback would not have been required if the previous three quarters went exactly like the fourth. 

There was not much departing the two sides after the first quarter with California leading 27-25, but missed shots and some turnovers eventually allowed the Pintos to gain some cushion for a 52-39 lead at halftime. It was much of the same story in the third with California leading by 18 to start the final frame. 

“We struggled hitting from the outside in the second and third quarter and really did not crash the glass as hard as we should have in those two quarters. We worried about giving up stuff on the backside and things like that,” the coach pointed out. “I keep telling these guys you cannot worry, you just have to go play and have fun.” 

Despite the Pintos being able to get their fair share of easy layups on the offensive end after breaking the full-court press of Versailles, the Tigers actually caused quite a bit of chaos forcing 19 turnovers in the first half alone and 34 overall for the game. California was able to spend plenty of time at the free throw line, though, and Ollison said that simply cannot happen. 

“I think they shot almost 50 free throws again tonight and you cannot give a team 50 free throws. It does not matter what system you are playing or how well you are shooting the ball,” he said. “We have to figure out a way to defend without founding and until we can do that we are going to struggle. 

“If you get a team that can handle the ball ok and move the ball ok, you can get a lot of layups out of it,” Ollison added about the downsides of the system his program has implemented. “We have to quit fouling guys that are shooting layups and just let them have it, go down to the other end and hit our shots. Those are things I have to fix and get across to these guys and help them understand so it is a habit when they get on the floor. I think right now, we have too much thinking going on.”

Versailles junior Justin Hamrick led the Tigers with 23 points and he scored 11 of them alone in the fourth quarter, which included a trio of 3-pointers to help spark the comeback effort. 

“He got hot there for a stretch and it was good. He was moving up the floor and credit to the guys that were finding him,” Ollison stated. “They kept finding him and he kept hitting them.” 

Senior Seth Newton knocked down 17 points, junior Eli Gulyayev added 15, freshman Ryder Williams put up eight, both seniors Michael Bell and Mikhail Gulyayev scored seven each and junior Cole Wilson finished with six.

“That is the great thing about this,” Ollison said of his team’s system. “The next game it may be Seth, the next game it may be Eli and we don’t have a guy you can just shut down and stop us.”

Making some more missed shots, committing a few less than 17 turnovers the Tigers finished with or hitting a few more of the 22 free throws the team had after finishing 68 percent from the line certainly would have helped. But, it is on to the next game as Versailles (6-7, 0-2 Tri-County Conference) looks to get back on track. Up next is the 90th annual Eldon Tournament where the Tigers will face Columbia Rock Bridge (6-2) on Tuesday.

“They just need to keep working, having fun and enjoying playing the game of basketball because that is what this is all about,” Ollison stated. “Wins and losses will come and we’ll get it right on the scoreboard a few times and get it wrong a few times, but they just need to play basketball, have fun and understand this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at mlosch@lakesunonline.com or 573-346-2132