VERSAILLES — Versailles’ Justin Ahrens and Fort Loramie’s Evan Berning are good friends. When not playing XBox, they’re often in a gymnasium playing one-on-one or doing drills with each other.
With all the time they’ve spent together, Berning knows Ahrens’ skills as good or better than anyone else. Berning used that knowledge on Tuesday night to put on one of the biggest defensive performances of his life.
Berning just didn’t come up with a big performance on defense. With under five seconds left in overtime, he hit one of the biggest shots of his life.
Fort Loramie saw a 10-point lead evaporate in the second half of a nonconference game at Versailles on Tuesday but scored the last five points to earn a 48-46 overtime win in front of sold-out crowd of over 2,200.
The Tigers led 46-43 after Carter May and Noah Richard each hit a free throw with under 40 seconds left. After Richard’s foul shot with 13 seconds left, Berning took the ball back down the court and hit a nothing-but-net 3-pointer from the right wing with three seconds left.
Versailles coach Travis Swank called a timeout shortly after the tying 3. The team had used all its timeouts, though, which resulted in a technical foul being called.
Fort Loramie senior guard Dillon Braun hit two foul shots with .9 seconds left to lift the team to victory.
“I felt a little bit of nerves coming in, but I didn’t think much about it,” Braun said. “They kept delaying the game (while officials talked about the timeout), and in my head, I calmed down and just knew it was going to come. I got on the line and buried it. …It’s great seeing the Loramie organization get up on their feet and just cheer.”
The win couldn’t have been possible without Fort Loramie (11-0, 5-0 Shelby County Athletic League) holding Ahrens, an Ohio State recruit, to a season-low 12 points. Ahrens struggled to get shots and offensive rebounds against Berning and a swarming Fort Loramie defense.
“He’s a really good shooter,” Berning said of Ahrens. “You’ve got to make him put it on the floor. You can’t let him set-shoot. Luckily he missed a lot of shots tonight. If he gets a couple of those going, it could have been totally different.”
Fort Loramie coach Corey Britton credited Berning for the defensive effort and for other players helping when Ahrens shot or fought for rebounds.
“Our help-side defense was fantastic,” Britton said. “They set a ton of screens from him and we talked, communicated and were able to fight through things and play hard, man defense.”
The teams entered the game undefeated. Versailles is ranked No. 3 In Division III in the Associated Press state poll, while Fort Loramie is No. 1 in Div. IV.
“It was a dog fight,” Britton said. “We knew it was going to be difficult coming over here.”
Keaton McEldowney hit a basket with 2:46 left in overtime, then Justin Ahrens scored a basket with 1:23 left to give the Tigers a 44-40 lead. A free throw by Berning with 1:08 left and a basket by Nick Brandewie 18 seconds later pulled the Redskins within 44-43.
May and Richard’s free throws boosted Versailles’ lead to three points before the team’s disastrous final 13 seconds.
“It looked like to me initially — and I’ll have to go back and look at the tape — but AJ (Ahrens) wasn’t guarding Berning in that situation, but he got stuck on him,” Swank said. “We were kind of frazzled a little bit. He got open because we were trying to get back to our man and he nailed the shot.
”I called the timeout and got the technical, so it is what it is. I’ll take the blame for it, because I’m the one that did it.”
Britton and Berning said Loramie’s final play was designed for Braun to shoot a 3-pointer. Berning said he couldn’t pass up a wide-open look, though.
“I dribbled down the court and no one was guarding me, and I wanted to shoot it right away,” Berning said. “I still wanted to run the play, so I came off the screen and no one picked me up, so I shot it. It was supposed to go to Dillon. Tyler (Siegel) was supposed to screen for Dillon, but no one was guarding me.”
Braun led Fort Loramie with 16 points, while Siegel finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. Brandewie added nine and Berning scored eight points in addition to five assists.
AJ Ahrens led Versailles (10-1, 3-0 Midwest Athletic Conference) with 21 points while Justin Ahrens scored 12. The scoring output was the lowest of the season for the Tigers and only the second time they have scored less than 50 points.
“Berning smothered (Justin Ahrens) a little bit,” Swank said. “We didn’t cut in our motion like we normally do. We stood around a little bit too much. We’re going back to the drawing board and try to fix things.”
The Tigers weren’t helped by turnovers. They had 15 turnovers in regulation, several of which came by throwing passes out-of-bounds or into the hands of Fort Loramie defenders. The Redskins finished with eight turnovers.
“When we got shots, it seems like we were doing pretty good, but when you’re throwing the ball away and not making many shots, you’re not going to win too many ball games,” Swank said. “We’ve just got to make sure we sit down and execute a little bit better on offense. Slow down at times and make sure we play a little bit better.”
Neither team shot well, but Fort Loramie was hampered by repeated missed layups. The Redskins were 17 for 46 (36.9 percent) from the field, including 12 for 37 from two-point range.
“They did a nice job of taking a lot of things away from us tonight,” Britton said. “We had to go to our secondary and third options. …When we move the ball, we’re pretty good offensively. When we get stagnant and catch it and dribble, we’re not very good. It’s a constant battle. We’ve got to move it and trust our teammates.”
The win won’t be celebrated long by Fort Loramie. The Redskins have a home SCAL showdown with Anna on Friday. The Rockets (9-2, 4-1) are ranked No. 10 in Div. III and are trying to stay in the league race.
Anna coach Nate Barhorst and several players were in attendance at Tuesday’s game.
“I’m not really thinking about this game anymore,” Berning said. “… It was a lot of fun, but we’re heading for Friday for Anna. Big Shelby County game. Our goal’s to win Shelby County.”
Versailles had a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers lost possession with 28.8 seconds left in the fourth after a five-second violation. AJ Ahrens stole the ball away from Berning with about 10 seconds left but missed a layup. After a failed put-back attempt by Justin Ahrens, Fort Loramie came away with the ball with .8 seconds left. After a couple of timeouts, Braun missed a desperation shot at the buzzer.
AJ Ahrens hit consecutive 3-pointers over a 40-second stretch to give Versailles a 36-35 lead with 5:24 left in the fourth quarter. The Tigers’ lead got as big as three points, but Fort Loramie battled back.
After AJ Ahrens made a basket to put the Tigers up 40-37 with 3:22 left, Berning made a free throw with 2:48 left and a basket in the paint a minute later to tie the score.
“That was the first time in the second half that we’ve really trailed all year,” Britton said. “We’ve had leads pretty much all year. …Just seeing that adversity is huge. Seeing that kind of adversity now is just going to make us better in the long run.”
Dillon Braun scored three baskets in the paint in the first two minutes of the third quarter to extend Fort Loramie’s lead to 26-16. Versailles quickly cut into the lead with a big performance by AJ Ahrens and Justin Ahrens. The duo combined to score the next five points to pull Versailles within 26-21.
After Fort Loramie scored on a jumper by Austin Siegel, Justin Ahrens made a free throw and a layup to shrink the lead to 28-24. Carter May then hit a basket with 1:31 left and AJ Ahrens followed with a basket off the glass on a drive with 22 seconds left to tie the score.
Siegel scored two free throws with eight seconds left in the third and then opened the fourth with a basket in the paint to give Fort Loramie a 32-28 lead. Nick Brandewie hit a 3-pointer to extend Loramie’s lead to 35-30 with 6:18 left in the fourth, but AJ Ahrens’ 3’s over the next minute put Versailles ahead.
“He’s capable of doing that and very confident,” Swank said of AJ Ahrens. “He played a heck of a game and kept us in the game. He was inside-out all night. They didn’t really have an answer for him with his quickness, taking the posts off the dribble or him stretching them out at the 3-point line. Hopefully he can continue on doing that and bringing us success the rest of the year.”
The Redskins led 20-14 after the first half. Both teams struggled shooting in the half, and the Tigers were hampered by committing 11 turnovers while Fort Loramie had one.
AJ Ahrens hit a basket on a drive with 2:57 left in the first quarter to tie the game 5-5, but Siegel made a basket on a drive and Nick Brandewie made two free throws to give the Redskins a 9-5 lead.
The Tigers opened the second quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 12-9 lead. AJ Ahrens hit two free throws with 7:06 left, then Justin Ahrens hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 6:30 left and followed 40 seconds later with a basket in the paint.
Fort Loramie quickly reclaimed the lead. After AJ Ahrens scored a basket off the glass with 4:18 left to give Versailles a 14-13 lead, Braun scored a basket 20 seconds later to put the Redskins ahead. Nathan Raterman hit a 3 from the left wing with 3:43 left to increase the lead to 18-14.
Neither team scored again until the closing seconds of the quarter. After two missed Fort Loramie shots, Brandewie made a tip-in at the buzzer to extend the lead to six.
“We really just didn’t play very good in the first half,” Swank said. “A lot of credit goes to Fort Loramie and their defense. We talked about taking it one stop at a time and taking care of the ball a little bit better, and we did that stuff and made a little run. We had that lead and opportunities, but we squandered it in the end.”
Versailles travels to Marion Local (5-3, 3-0) on Friday for a big MAC game. Swank said he’s sure the team will be eager to get back on the court after Tuesday’s loss.
“It’s not going to be an easy game, but we’ll try our best to learn from our mistakes and go back to practice the next two days and really work on things and see where that leads us Friday.”
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.