By Bryant Billing
KETTERING — Sidney has struggled to stop athletic opponents this season and got its biggest test in Versailles on Sunday in Flyin’ to the Hoop. The Yellow Jackets didn’t do much better.
Versailles started the second quarter with a big run to take a 13-point lead and led by double digits for all but a 15-second span in the fourth quarter of a 65-50 win.
The Tigers’ duo of seniors Justin and AJ Ahrens was too much for Sidney’s defense to contain. Justin Ahrens, a 6-6 forward, led Versailles with 26 points and had 11 rebounds. AJ Ahrens, a 6-3 forward, scored 12 points and had seven rebounds.
“We felt like we had a little bit of a size advantage against them,” Versailles coach Travis Swank said. “More than just in the post, though, the big thing of just taking it to the basket and being strong with the ball was really good to see.”
Sidney junior guard Andre Gordon scored 20 points, including a dunk with 5:48 left in the fourth that cut the Tigers’ lead to 52-44.
The Yellow Jackets (7-4) couldn’t cut the deficit any closer, though. Keaton McEldowney scored a basket and made a free throw after a foul to boost Versailles’ lead to 11 points. The gap hovered around that mark until Versailles made a couple of baskets in the last 60 seconds to extend the final margin to 15.
“When you’re running around and leaving people open and trying to cause turnovers, good teams are going to take advantage,” Sidney coach John Willoughby said. “I thought we fought hard in the third quarter to get back in the game.”
Sidney outscored Versailles 17-13 in the third quarter, in large part due to a flurry of turnovers by the Tigers. Versailles turned it over once in the final four minutes, though.
“We just needed to make sure we took care of the ball,” Swank said. “We got a little lackadaisical with the ball and turned it over here and there, and we just didn’t take care on our end on offense during that stretch.
“We were getting good looks whenever we took care of it. Our back cuts and our curl screens were working today. We just need to be patient and make sure we run things and get good looks.”
The highly-touted matchup between Justin Ahrens, an Ohio State signee, and Gordon didn’t disappoint. Both made shots under pressure and made athletic passes.
Gordon was hampered, though, by sitting a good portion of the first quarter on the bench after picking up two fouls.
“That was a help to us,” Swank said. “Both of them are athletes, and I think the fans got to see their athleticism.”
Flyin’ to the Hoop draws college coaches from around the Midwest region. Several Division III and II coaches were in attendance on Sunday, as well as Xavier coach Chris Mack.
“You try to give your kids all the opportunities in the world, and hopefully they can take advantage of it,” Willoughby said. “It’s a good chance to kind of prepare for tournament. It’s a good opportunity, and we appreciate being here.”
Versailles shot 27 for 61 (44.3 percent) from the field and outrebounded Sidney 43-33. The Yellow Jackets made 22-of-59 field goal attempts (37.3 percent). The Tigers finished with eight turnovers, while Sidney had six.
McEldowney finished with 14 points and five rebounds. Ratez Roberts scored 12 points and had nine rebounds for Sidney and Devan Rogers scored nine points and had six rebounds.
Versailles jumped out to an 8-4 lead, and the teams traded baskets for the rest of the first quarter.
The Tigers started the second quarter on a 9-2 run to boost their lead to 23-11. Trey Werntz hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 4:29 left to pull Sidney within 26-15, but Versailles finished on a 13-4 run.
“We had a lack of positioning there defensively (in the first half),” Willoughby said. “We were way out to the 3-point line instead of in their gaps. I don’t have a cause for that. We just weren’t there.”
Justin Ahrens hit a shot off the glass with 1:52 left, then AJ Ahrens capped off the Tigers’ run with a basket with 23 seconds left to boost Versailles’ halftime lead to 39-21.
Sunday was Versailles’ first game since an overtime loss to Fort Loramie last Tuesday.
“This was kind of a weird situation for us after our game Friday (against Marion Local) was postponed and coming in and playing on a Sunday,” Swank said. “… I liked where our kids’ heads were at. We were focused and ready to go at the beginning of the game.”
The game was the first of a tough stretch for Versailles. The Tigers travel to Lima Central Catholic on Tuesday and host Fort Recovery in Midwest Athletic Conference action on Friday.
Sidney’s schedule beefs up as well. The Yellow Jackets host Centerville on Tuesday and Fairborn on Friday before traveling to Lehman Catholic on Saturday.
Willoughby said Tuesday’s game against Centerville will be a big test against another athletic opponent. Among other athletic GWOC teams Sidney has faced this season are Xenia and Butler — both close losses. The Elks, though, play at a methodical pace.
Centerville (7-5) won a tournament in Orlando over Christmas break and have played a strong schedule with the likes of Wayne (11-0), Springfield (9-0) and Moeller (9-3).
“Our big thing against (Centerville) is whether or not we’re going to be able to play defense against them for a whole possession,” Willoughby said. “They move the ball and go side-to-side and wear you out mentally. They take advantage of that if you’re not on top of your game defensively.”
Gordon became Sidney’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer on Sunday. He has 1,127 points and surpassed TC Johnson, a 1980 graduate, who finished with 1,120 points.