ANNA — Justin Ahrens sat on the bench in foul trouble most of the first half but put on a show in the second half — and hit the game winner with a hand in his face.
Ahrens hit a jumper a few feet inside the right wing just before the buzzer to boost Versailles to a 67-65 win over Anna in a nonconference game on Wednesday.
Ahrens, an Ohio State commit, scored 25 of his 29 points in the second half to help the Tigers (7-0, 2-0 Midwest Athletic Conference) earn the win in front of a near-sellout crowd. His biggest shot came at the end of the game.
Wyatt Bensman hit a 3-pointer for Anna at the top of the key with 16 seconds left to tie it up. After Versailles got the ball downcourt, Ahrens dribbled for a few seconds at the top of the key, drove a few feet inside and jumped up for a shot while Bensman defended.
Ahrens adjusted his upper body around Bensman in the air as he shot his jumper, which went through nothing but net less than a second before the buzzer.
“I looked up and was like, ‘Coach, don’t call timeout, let’s play it out,’ ” Ahrens said. “I told everybody to clear out. I wanted the shot. I really wanted the shot and knew it was going to go in.”
Anna coach Nate Barhorst said he was pleased with how the team defended the final shot and credited Ahrens for making it.
“Justin Ahrens is Justin,” Barhorst said. “We thought about maybe going and doubling and getting the ball out of his hands, but he would have found somebody, probably underneath the basket. That’s probably what they told him. Wyatt did a heck of a job defending him. He just made a tough, tough shot.
“I can’t fault our effort. Our kids played their rear ends off. It’s just one of those things where you’ve got to be able to learn from it, move on and hopefully get better for it.”
Riley Huelskamp hit two foul shots with 4:18 left in the fourth to pull Anna within 55-52, but Keaton McEldowney hit two soon after to put Versailles up by five.
The Tigers led 61-56 lead with 2:28 left in the fourth when a fan suffered a medical emergency in the stands. The game was delayed about 25 minutes while the spectator was attended to and removed by paramedics.
After the teams warmed up following the delay, Versailles came out and hit a shot to extend its lead to seven points.
The Rockets (6-2, 2-1 Shelby County Athletic League) came flying back, though.
Bensman hit a 3 with 1:33 left to cut Versailles’ lead to 63-61, then after Versailles missed a 3 on its next possession, Griffin Doseck hit 1-of-2 free-throw attempts after a foul to pull Anna within one point.
Noah Richard hit two foul shots with 42 seconds left to give Versailles a 65-62 lead, but Bensman tied it up less than 30 seconds later.
“All the momentum was going their way,” Ahrens said. “The fans were on their feet, it was a crazy atmosphere here. It was awesome; I loved it. I knew coming down the floor there they were going to hit something crazy. It’s the gods of basketball, it’s just how it is.”
Barhorst said the break in the action allowed Anna to rest up.
“It’s a close friend to us and our family and to these seniors,” Barhorst said of the fan. “It was good to see (the fan) was alert and back at it, but it allowed us to rally. I wouldn’t say it was the main thing, but it kind of gave us that break.
“It kind of seemed like they had the momentum until that happened, and then we were able to come back out and rally the troops and tie it up, which I thought was amazing for us to do, especially with that group (Versailles) had on the floor in the last two-and-a-half minutes.”
Bensman finished with 29 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter. He hit four 3-pointers, all in the second half.
“He’s our leader,” Barhorst said. “He’s the guy that we look upon. He’s our best defender and an all-around great player and great person. To see him get us back and give us a chance was very, very cool to see.”
The Rockets led by two points at halftime but Ahrens quickly helped Versailles take a lead in the third. He made a one-handed dunk after a steal with 5:05 left to tie the game 33-33, then added two free throws about 45 seconds later.
Ahrens missed a third foul shot attempt, though, but Versailles rebounded and Ahrens scored on a baseline drive with about four minutes left to increase the lead to 37-33.
Anna cut Versailles’ lead to two points late in the third but McEldowney hit a mid-range jumper at the buzzer after a missed 3-pointer by Ahrens to put the Tigers up 47-43.
Ahrens got the attention of Anna fans early in the game. He had a thunderous one-handed dunk with 5:08 left in the first quarter and was fouled.
Ahrens let out a yell after coming down near an Anna defender, which drew boos from Anna’s spectators.
“That’s what the fans are looking for,” Ahrens said. “They’re looking for any way to get me out of the game. I might have went a little too far, but that’s just my competitiveness. It’s a drive in my heart. I love this game. It’s going to come out in me every now and then.”
Ahrens hit the foul shot after the dunk to give the Tigers a 5-2 lead, but he wasn’t around much longer in the first half.
With Versailles ahead 10-4, Ahrens picked up his second foul with 4:03 left and sat the bench the rest of the first half, then AJ Ahrens picked up his second foul a minute later and sat the rest of the half.
AJ Ahrens picked up two fouls in the third quarter and later fouled out.
“Me playing one half and AJ playing pretty much one quarter really threw us off,” Ahrens said. “I was proud of my teammates for stepping up and hanging in there and helping us get the win.”
The Rockets rallied with the Ahrens brothers on the bench. Anna finished the first quarter on a 9-3 run, which Bensman capped off with a shot on a drive with three seconds left to tie the score 13-13.
After the teams traded baskets to open the second, Bart Bixler hit a shot in the paint after a spin move with 5:07 left and then followed with a three-point play with 4:23 left to put Anna ahead 20-15.
Versailles responded with a 12-6 run. Kyle Jones hit a 3-pointer with 1:31 left and then followed with an inside shot with 45 seconds left to give Versailles a 27-26 lead.
Bensman hit a free throw with 22 seconds left, then Anna got a rebound off a missed Versailles shot and threw a pass down court to Bixler, who scored on a shot off the glass as the buzzer sounded to give Anna a 29-27 halftime lead.
“We didn’t take advantage as much as we should have,” Barhorst said of the Ahrens’ sitting most of the first half. “I thought there were times where we settled too much for the outside shot instead of trying to drive penetrate and get the ball inside. That was the only thing that we should have done a better job of coaching on.
“Other than that though, our kids battled. Hats off to (Versailles), they battled. They came in here and knew they were in a big game in a big atmosphere. It’s exciting to be in, but unfortunately it’s on the wrong side for us.”
Jones and McEldowney each finished with nine points for Versailles. The Tigers made 26 field goals and 12-of-17 foul shots.
Bixler finished with 11 points for the Rockets, while Doseck added nine. Anna made 19 field goals and 22-of-29 free-throw attempts.
Versailles hosts Miami East in nonconference action on Friday, while Anna hosts Botkins in an SCAL game.
Interview with Justin Ahrens after his game winner at Anna. pic.twitter.com/Rh3fQzFaIB
— Bryant Billing (@TopBillingSport) December 28, 2017
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.