Versailles’ quick start propels Tigers boys basketball over Eldon

Michael Losch
Lake Sun Leader
Versailles freshman Ryder Williams looks to go around Eldon senior Aidan Wells on his way to the hoop on Friday, February 19, in Eldon. Williams finished with 13 points for the Tigers.

Basketball was finally back in session Friday night at Eldon. 

Due to some winter weather, it had been two weeks since the visitors from Versailles stepped on the court and the home team was playing just its second game in a month due to a combination of weather and quarantine from COVID-19. 

The lack of games certainly did not hurt the visitors. Senior Seth Newton quickly nailed four of his five 3-pointers in the first half to lead his team with 17 points, 12 different players scored overall and the quick start propelled the Tigers to an 87-71 win over the Mustangs.

“That was a big emphasis we had, we wanted to come out and get going and try to take their crowd out of it as early as we could and make sure we were not battling the crowd and the scoreboard all night long,” Versailles coach Jason Ollison said. “The guys came out and responded. Seth came out and hit some big shots for us and when they went to guard him we had other guys step up and take shots and knock them down. We were going and getting rebounds, doing a whole bunch of good stuff and that is how we need to play.”

Speaking of the quick start, seven different Versailles players scored in the first quarter alone and it helped the Tigers secure an early 10-point lead in a game they never trailed in. Not only was it helpful, but it was also a little fun for the players, too. 

“It is awesome because if you jump on the nets quick, it kind of determines the rest of the game. Coach always says to come out of the gates fast and a lot of times we don’t and wait until the fourth quarter to do something,” said Versailles freshman Ryder Williams who added 13 points, which included going 9-10 from the free throw line to help his team preserve the lead. “So, tonight I think the first quarter really helped us win. 

“When one (shot) hits, we go crazy on the bench and we just keep flowing from there.” 

Eldon still hung around, though. The Mustangs went on an 8-1 run in the second quarter to cut the lead back to three before the Tigers stretched the lead back out to 12 at halftime. It was a 7-point game after the third quarter and the Mustangs managed to cut the lead to two points with just over four minutes to go, but could not close the gap. 

“That Hess kid is a load- he’s good- and the pressure did not bother him a whole lot,” Ollison said of of Eldon freshman Hunter Hees. “He was able to take care of the ball and do a lot of good things. He was able to help facilitate their offense and credit to their guys because they never quit playing. They rebounded really well and in the second and third quarter when it got kind of slow for us, it was because they were crashing the glass and really working hard on the boards.

“That makes it tough, but our guys responded. Two weeks ago, that would have been a game we let get away because things weren’t going our way for a little while,” Ollison continued. “ I thought tonight we showed a lot of maturity and were able to step up and take back what was ours and finish the game.”

Free throws helped make that happen for Versailles as the Tigers shot nearly 60 percent as a team from the line and hit 12 of them alone in the fourth quarter, compared to just six field goals over the last eight minutes. Ollison noted more fouls were starting to be called as the game wore on so he made an adjustment and asked his players to aggressively get to the basket instead of settling for distant shots. 

Freshman Jaxon Marshall also reached double figures for the Tigers with 11 points, senior Jordan Williams put in eight points and both juniors Justin Hamrick and Eli Gulyayev added seven points each. 

“Officiating is such a hard thing to do, but as a coach you just try to figure out how the game is being called and what needs to be done offensively,” Ollison pointed out. 

“Credit to our guys, Ryder hit six free throws in the fourth quarter and we had other guys step up and knock down some free throws. That is what it takes to be able to win a championship.” 

The little things like that which went right for Versailles seemed to go the opposite way for Eldon Friday night. The Mustangs missed quite a few close shots, including layups, and finished with 32 turnovers compared to just 16 for Versailles, but there were still opportunities to seize the lead down the stretch. It just came down to execution. 

“If I believed in those silver linings, yes, it would be a silver lining but I’m tired of moral victories and I think our boys are, too. We are good enough to win those games and we are not winning them,” Eldon coach Cory Casey said. “Tonight it had nothing to do with effort or heart or attitude. All those things are where we wanted to be, we are not doing the little things. 

“That is a hard one to swallow, but in the same regard, we might get these guys again in districts. So, we know if we clean those things up, it is ours to win. We cannot get our heads down and I’m proud of the boys effort. They fought the whole way.”

Senior Aidan Wells led all scorers with 23 points for Eldon, sophomore Austin Rush knocked down 16, Hees added 13 and junior Zaben King was the fourth Mustang in double figures with 12 points, respectively, 

After the game, Casey used the metaphor of a mountain for his players. He said Versailles alone made the mountain big enough already and his players were simply adding to it with all the little miscues. Also using the metaphor of a doctor, he said the problems on the floor Friday night have been diagnosed and can easily be fixed. 

“We were much better tonight defensively and that was probably one of our better defensive efforts, I was proud of our effort,” Casey said after his team gave up 49 points in the second half to California the previous week. “We plugged that hole but in doing so, we opened up another one tonight with the missed shots. With Versailles, it is like hitting them with body blows. You have to hit the layups and cannot live on 3-pointers, you have to go body blow and we had plenty of opportunities to hit the body and kept missing. 

“That is kind of what happened tonight so we fix that, we’re fine. It is nothing we can’t fix and the boys walked out of here knowing that so I think we’ll be fine and ready to go next week.”

It will also help to get a little consistency back in the flow of the season and play a few more games after winter weather and the pandemic halted things for a bit. The coach said it has not been easy with missed opportunities to practice and trying to regain some momentum, but he did not feel that was evident on the court Friday night. 

“I thought the boys were ready to play tonight. The practices we’ve had have been good and I thought were ready to play Versailles tonight and we were,” he noted. “We had what we wanted, did what we wanted to do and did what we practiced to do. We just did not put the ball in the hoop.”

Eldon (3-14, 0-5 Tri-County Conference) will return to the court on Thursday to host Blair Oaks (17-4) in conference action at 5 p.m. 

“We are right there and just have to put the ball in the hole. We don’t walk away from tonight’s game feeling like it is something we can’t overcome,” Casey said of the road ahead. “There is a problem, we are going to fix the problem and it is very simple. We make our layups, which we make every day in practice, we win the game. We just have to go do it.”

Versailles (10-11, 1-4 Tri-County Conference) visited Boonville on Saturday and dropped a 116-99 game to the Pirates. Up next is a trip to Warsaw (7-12) on Thursday at 8 p.m.

“The nice thing about running this system and style is we don’t change a whole lot of things for our opponents so we are just going to do our thing,” Ollison said of his club.

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