GREENVILLE – Justin Ahrens made a field goal and free throw with just 3.5 seconds left Saturday night to give the Versailles boys basketball team a 57-56 win at Greenville.
Greenville led by as many as 6 points in the fourth quarter and was up by 3 with less than a minute to go. Versailles kept it close, though, and was within 2 points with time running down. In the final seconds the Tigers drove toward the hoop, missing the potential tying basket, but Justin Ahrens got the offensive rebound.
“We wanted to push if it was under 3, no matter what, get a layup and try to extend it as long as you can,” Versailles coach Travis Swank said. “Good things happen when you push. A lot of times you either get the foul or you get the offensive rebound because everybody is collapsing, trying to take away the driver.”
After getting the rebound, Justin Ahrens scored to tie the game with 3.5 seconds remaining and drew a foul in the process. The Versailles junior made the go-ahead free throw then the Versailles defense got a stop to hold on for the 1-point victory.
“Justin has ice water in his veins knocking down that free throw,” Swank said.
Prior to the late-game heroics Greenville and Versailles battled back and forth with eight ties and nine lead changes in the game.
Versailles started strong and took an early 10-4 lead. Alex Wendel, Justin Ahrens and AJ Ahrens led the Tigers early as they built their largest lead of the night.
Greenville didn’t back down and finished the first quarter on a 10-2 run with Devin Hendrix, Aaron Rich and Peter Pandey leading the charge as the Wave went up 14-12 at the end of the quarter.
“We know that we can play with anyone,” Greenville coach Kyle Joseph said. “We knew that before the game.”
In the second quarter neither team led by more than 3 points as they went back and forth. In the final 45 seconds of the half Versailles got baskets from Connor Custenborder and Justin Ahrens to go into halftime leading 29-26.
The third quarter was the only period all night in which there wasn’t a tie or a lead change. Versailles was able to maintain its advantage throughout the frame, but Greenville kept it close entering the fourth quarter with the Tigers up 39-37.
Greenville found its groove early in the fourth quarter with Pandey, Rich and Isaiah Gable leading the way. The Wave scored 12 of the first 16 points in the fourth quarter to go up 49-43 with 4:38 remaining.
Greenville’s offense was starting to click, and the Green Wave defense was forcing errant passes from the Tigers that prevented them from getting much going.
“We really haven’t seen that type of pressure since really the beginning of the year,” Swank said of Greenville’s defense. “It really disrupted us a little bit on the wings.”
In the next two minutes Versailles battled back with baskets by Justin Ahrens, AJ Ahrens and Keaton McEldowney to tie the score at 49-all. However, Gable was red hot from beyond the arc – draining three fourth quarter 3-pointers – to help the Wave regain the lead and go up 55-52 with 1:13 remaining.
“The Gable kid got hot at the right time for them, and we just happened to gut it out and make a few executions down the stretch,” Swank said.
In the final minutes Versailles cut its deficit to 1 point with a basket by Custenborder.
Greenville had a chance to put the game away but shot just 2-of-7 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
“We just missed some tonight, but we’re a really good free throw shooting team,” Joseph said. “The guys who missed them are good free throw shooters, and I know that next time around they’re going to go in.”
Greenville made a free throw with less than 20 seconds that put the Wave up 56-54, but Versailles managed to come out on top with Justin Ahrens’ final 3 points in the waning seconds.
Justin Ahrens finished the night with a game-high 26 points. Also for the Tigers, Wendel scored 10 points, AJ Ahrens scored 8, Custenborder scored 6, McEldowney scored 5, and Cole Niekamp scored 2.
Pandey led Greenville with 17 points. Also for the Wave, Gable scored 13 points, Rich scored 12, Hendrix scored 8, Kyle Phillips scored 3, and Will Coomer scored 3.
With Saturday’s win Versailles finished the regular season with a 21-1 overall record. The Tigers will play Milton-Union in the first round of the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Northmont.
Greenville dropped to 13-9 with Saturday’s loss. The Wave will play Greater Western Ohio Conference rival Sidney at 8 p.m. Feb. 25 at Trotwood in the first round of the OHSAA tournament.
“Feel really good about where we’re at heading into the tournament,” Joseph said.
Prior to Saturday’s game Greenville honored its senior cheerleaders, pep band members and boys basketball players. The Wave have seven senior boys basketball players: Isaiah Gable, Daniel Harper, Devin Hendrix, Peter Pandey, Kyle Phillips, Aaron Rich and Trae Wood.
“Those seven seniors have meant a lot to me coming in, being new and getting the job late,” Joseph said, “and knowing when I came in that there was certain things that I was going to ask them to play differently than maybe how they had played before. And they really bought in and have given me everything they had every step along the way, which I told them has put us in a good spot heading into the tournament but also has put us in a good spot to be successful next year.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.