Osage boys basketball’s Clark hits game-winner in district semifinal thriller with Versailles
Osage junior Grant Steen had plenty of reason to feel confident as the ball left his hands in the final seconds of a district semifinal game with Versailles Thursday night.
He already made four 3-pointers on his way to a team-leading 19 points for the Indians and Coach Craig Engelbrecht intended for the junior to get a good look at the basket with 4.4 seconds left as the team trailed the visiting Tigers by a single point. Things did not go according to plan.
Osage inbounded the ball at half court and Steen’s 3-point shot from the corner was partially blocked by Versailles junior Kole Viebrock. But, as the ball flew through the air and fell short of the rim it fell in the hands of Osage senior Paven Clark who happened to be right by the basket. Clark quickly put a shot up and in as the buzzer sounded and it sent the Indians to a district championship game as Osage squeaked by Versailles in a 77-76 semifinal thriller.
“I’m very thankful he was there to get the rebound,” Steen said with a smile.
“It was definitely a hard-fought win. Just to play on home court for a district championship, that never really happens and we are thankful for that.”
The second-seeded Indians (10-14) will host top seed Buffalo (18-9) on Saturday for the Class 4 District 10 championship at noon and Osage will have a shot to capture its first district title since 2004. But first, there were celebrations in order Thursday night as Clark found himself in the right place at quite literally, the right time.
“Before that I was praying to God he (Steen) would make it. I did not really want that stress on me,” Clark said of the final play. “My guy did not box me out and I was able to get in the right spot at the right time. Luckily, I was able to put it back up and in.”
Osage’s bench quickly cleared in celebration and the same went for Osage’s student section as Clark was quickly surrounded by his teammates and fellow students. After finishing a radio interview at the top of the bleachers, he walked back to the court and chants of “Paven” echoed in the gym.
“It is definitely a fantastic feeling,” said Clark who transferred to the school from Cuba High School just over a year ago. “I have not been at Osage that long, but a lot of these guys- especially the junior boys on the basketball team- they became like family to me. I’m very grateful for this opportunity with them and grateful for the friendships I’ve built here at Osage.”
It was the third meeting between Osage and Versailles this season and the Indians won the previous two by 10 points and 13 points, respectively. At one point Osage led by as many as 10 early in the fourth quarter but the visitors were resilient and quickly closed the gap.
“We knew it would be this type of game. Every game we’ve played them has been this kind of game and we’ve been lucky at the end to push out the distance,” Engelbrecht said of the matchups with Tri-County Conference foe Versailles. “Tonight was just the opposite and they came back. We’re just so happy to be moving on.”
It was certainly a sigh of relief, considering how Versailles secured the lead with 4.4 seconds left. Versailles senior Jordan Williams made a game-tying layup with 11.5 seconds left and a turnover on the ensuing inbound pass with the Tigers applying a full-court press put the ball in the hands of Versailles junior Justin Hamrick who was fouled on a shot with 8.8 seconds to go. Hamrick hit one of his two free throws to give the Tigers a 76-75 advantage before the Indians quickly got the ball to half court and called a timeout to set up the last play.
“They could have died right there, you have to give them credit,” Engelbrecht said of his players. “I’m so happy for Paven. It is his senior year and seniors all want to move on, obviously, but it is a little more important for the seniors to finish their careers out strong.”
It was a game that featured just two ties, but 17 lead changes, and the previous three quarters seemed to indicate that whichever team had the ball last may just end up finding a way to win. It was an ending that almost resembled the 1983 men’s college basketball championship between North Carolina State and Houston where North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Charles turned a long-distance airball into a dunk at the buzzer to win it.
“Grant is our most consistent 3-point shooter and with 4.4 seconds and the ball on the sideline, we thought we could get him something and Brockton (McLaughlin) made a really good pass to him,” Engelbrecht said. “It is kind of ironic because they (Versailles) killed us all night on the boards and then we end up winning a game on a putback. They owned the backboards for three quarters and we did not block out all night long. So, I guess it was fitting we should win one on a rebound.”
And one team’s euphoria after that kind of finish is a bitter reality to face for the team on the losing side, especially when it results in the end of a season.
“Worst blocked shot of the season, right there,” Versailles coach Jason Ollison said jokingly. “There is no fault tonight, the guys played as hard as they could play and as well as I felt like they could with what they’re doing. It happens, that’s the way the game goes and best of luck these guys when they play Buffalo on Saturday. I hope they do a really good job.”
Ollison credited the Indians for playing right up to the buzzer in a game that was a little more slower-paced compared to the previous two meetings against Osage where both teams put up no less than 88 points. The Tigers, known for a fast-paced tempo that comes with full-court pressure, backed off the press Thursday night and opted to settle in and play defense in the half court.
“We did a pretty good job, I thought, for the most part. Turnovers got us a little bit early and we were not able to capitalize with the fouls early in the game,” Ollison said after his team coughed up 28 turnovers on the evening and finished 9-18 at the free throw line. “We did not make our free throws like we needed to, but the guys played hard, responded well and I’m proud of them.”
Despite the obstacles and facing an early 10-point gap in the fourth, Versailles was in position to win it at the end and Ollison credited his guys for continuing to battle. Freshman Ryder Williams helped to put his team in that position as he led all scorers with 30 points on the night. Senior Seth Newton knocked down 15 points, senior Mikhail Gulyayev put up 11 and junior Eli Gulyayev finished with seven.
“We were able to slow them down a little bit because we did have a 10-point lead, but Versailles is a good team who can get hot pretty fast and hit some big shots,” Clark said of the opponent. “So, It was just being able to slow them down, get it to a nice, even game and being able to finish it out.”
Versailles ends the season at 11-14 and with another campaign completed, it was time to say farewell to another senior class. Ollison described this year’s batch as a “great” group of kids.
“They love each other, love playing basketball and being part of the program. That is what we need in every class,” the coach said. We had so many guys come in and do the little things that needed to be done on and off the floor. That is what you cannot say enough about these kids- they are not just good basketball players, but awesome kids off the floor and in the classroom. They do the right thing and are going to be great members of society as they grow older.”
“That is ultimately what we are trying to do here within our program is teach kids how to become men through basketball. I’m proud of these guys and we are going to miss the heck out of all of them,” the coach continued. “I’m pretty confident it is not the last time I’m going to see them and they’ll be back around because they enjoy being around it as much as they can.”
As for the returning players, Ollison said they just need to keep working. The coach also jokingly mentioned getting “77-76” T-Shirts as a motivator going into next season after Thursday night’s game.
“We are going to lose some seniors in spots who will be hard to replace and we have to have guys step up, take those roles and expand the roles they already have,” he said. “With the core group of guys we have coming back, I have no doubt what is going to happen because these guys are hungry, want to succeed and do well and they are going to continue to fight and get better.”
The show goes on for Osage and while forcing 28 turnovers helped to keep the Indians ahead most of the time down the stretch, a balanced scoring effort on the offensive end proved to make just as much of a difference with four players in double figures.. Senior Quentin Britton knocked down 12 points, both junior Alton Drace and Clark finished with 10 points each and the Indians almost had two more in double figures as both senior Drew Elley and McLaughlin had nine points each.
“They were playing a ‘Triangle-and-2’ and trying to keep the ball from Grant and Alton so other guys had to step up and they did,” Engelbrecht said. “That was encouraging, too, so talking about good signs all night long, we had other guys step up and score the ball. It is hard to guard when you have multiple people who can put the ball in the basket.”
Michael Losch is the Sports Editor at the Lake Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-346-2132