TIPTON -- South Callaway's foul trouble and the Versailles Tigers' strong defense led to the Bulldogs taking second in the Tipton Tournament Saturday at Tipton High School.
"The positives for our first two games is we got to the free throw lines 24 times on Thursday, we got the free throw line 20 times on Tuesday, and then we only got there seven times tonight," South Callaway boys basketball coach Seth Thomas said. "So, I'll have to go back and look at that and figure out why they shot 31 free throws. So that's a pretty big discrepancy. We just got to do a little better job, I guess, defensively moving and figuring out how to get the paint and the free throw line more. That's a big gap to overcome."
Playing in the Tipton Tournament for the first time, No. 3 seed South Callaway fell 75-54 to No. 1 seed Versailles in the championship. The Bulldogs dropped to 2-1, and the Tigers improved to 3-1.
Heading into the contest, an enticing matchup was expected between South Callaway senior leader Tayber Gray and Versailles "ride or die" Ryder Williams. Both wear No. 10 and are the quarterback for their school's football team, but are more known for their basketball ability.
With that being the case, the Bulldogs knew they needed to contain Williams while getting a good night from Gray on both sides.
South Callaway did limit Versailles' tournament MVP Williams, as he scored a game-high 29 points -- nine below his season average, according to Thomas -- and went 9-13 from the free-throw line with four rebounds.
"I thought we did a pretty good job on him," Thomas said. "They're a really good team; they've got three really good guards."
Meanwhile, Gray, named to the all-tournament team, notched 25 points (went 9-27 from the field and 3-4 from the free-throw line) and had five rebounds and two assists.
Each team had another player step up, and Reese Murdock did for the Tigers with 17 points.
Murdock, who made all-tournament, hit a putback to open the contest's scoring. Versailles led wire to wire after Murdock gave the Tigers the lead.
After Murdock went 2-2 from the line to double Versailles' advantage to 4-0, Adam Loucks -- the other Bulldog to make all-tournament -- answered the bell and converted a layup from a Gray assist to make it 4-2 Tigers.
"Adam and Tayber had a great tournament, and our whole team had a good tournament," Thomas said. "Getting two guys (all-tournament) is great individually for them and a testament to where we've got, and we were able to get two people on there. Just a great team effort."
Loucks got it done defensively, as well.
Kickstarting the play that led to South Callaway cutting its deficit to its smallest all game, Tucker Jones tipped a Versailles pass, and Loucks stole the ball.
Loucks tossed it to Gray, who found Jones open in the right corner, and he drained his shot from deep to put it at 6-5 Tigers.
Versailles eventually increased its lead to six (11-5) when Murdock knocked down the Tigers' first 3. However, South Callaway responded instantly.
Jones turned provider this time, dishing it to Gray, who landed a right corner 3 to cut South Callaway's deficit in half at 11-8.
Gray continued his solid start offensively, scoring a mid-range jumper on the Bulldogs' ensuing possession to bring it back to a three-point game (13-10) again.
That's the closest South Callaway got to Versailles for the remainder of the first quarter. The Tigers went on an 8-2 run to end the first after Gray's jumper.
Gray's effort continued to keep South Callaway in the game. Bringing it to a five-point contest for the Bulldogs (21-16), Gray stole the ball and dashed down the court before scoring an underhanded layup.
Unfortunately for South Callaway, Williams ensured Versailles stayed on top. Williams scored the first four points of the Tigers' 6-0 run that saw them take their first double-digit advantage at 27-16 on Michael Vansell's layup.
Before Versailles took a double-digit lead for good, Gray and Loucks combined to score three buckets to narrow the Bulldogs' deficit below 10 points three times. Gray accounted for two of those plays, with a layup and putback his scoring methods.
Dominating the final minutes of the first half, the Tigers added an exclamation point with a Tristan Albrecht right-handed dunk from the right side of the hoop. Albrecht tallied eight points and earned all-tournament.
Two drives after Albrecht's dunk, Murdock hit 1-2 from the charity stripe to give Versailles a 38-23 advantage, its largest of the first half.
On South Callaway's next possession, Colten Crocker landed a stepback jumper to conclude the first half scoring with the Bulldogs trailing 38-25.
South Callaway needed to string scoring drives together to come back, and it did that early in the third quarter by going on a 9-3 run. Loucks had a three-point play that started with a transition layup, and Gray finished the run with a stepback top-of-the-arc 3 to reduce the Bulldogs' deficit to 10 (46-36), its smallest in the second half.
While South Callaway's start to the third quarter excited the Bulldog faithful, it couldn't maintain its offensive consistency.
Following South Callaway's run, Versailles went on a 10-3 run to end the third quarter. Four Tigers scored during the run, showing their depth posed a challenge to the Bulldogs and other teams they faced in the tournament.
"Doing what we were doing and getting out in transition and running and forcing some turnovers," Thomas said of South Callaway's run. "But when you're playing down, you're taking the haymakers like we were taking. We need some of those haymakers to land, and we just didn't have some of those shots fall to get us back into it and that was probably the difference right there for us and them kind of stretching that lead out."
Outside of Williams missing a dunk, the Tigers executed their gameplan in the fourth quarter, outscoring South Callaway 19-16. Gray's eight points and Louck's five accounted for all but three of the Bulldogs' points in the fourth.
Williams put Versailles ahead by at least 20 points for the remainder of the game when he scored an end-to-end layup off Albrecht's steal to make it 69-49 Tigers.
Since the game got out of hand, South Callaway gave rotation players minutes. Deacon Daugherty was the only Bulldog not named Gray or Loucks to score in the fourth quarter, sinking a right corner 3 on SC's final possession to cap the scoring.
Deacon Daugherty's older brother, Dane, missed the game due to injury, and Ethan Edwards replaced him in the starting lineup. Edwards recorded two points, two rebounds and a steal before fouling out with just over a minute left in the game.
"He played great for us on Thursday," Thomas said of Edwards. "He was great for us again, and you can't start six people, but if we would, he'd be there for us. Every night, he does a great job. Kolton Adrian and Graden Pontius did a great job off the bench for us. But when you play a good team, you want to have all your weapons at your disposal, and we're gonna get Dane back eventually. ...I'm proud of every single one of my kids who played, and to finish in this position is great for us."
The final result wasn't what South Callaway wanted. Still, it earned two memorable victories nonetheless: The Bulldogs beat tournament host, No. 6 seed Tipton, who'll join SC in the Central State 8 next season, 62-60 in the opening round, and No. 2 seed Camdenton, a future Central Missouri Activities Conference team, 60-52 in the championship bracket semifinals.
"I've been trying to get this tournament for a long time," Thomas said. "They do a great job over here. We're pleased that we're in it. It's a great atmosphere, great teams, all different class sizes, great competition. They do an absolutely great job over here at Tipton, running this tournament, and we're excited to be in it for the next couple of years."
After playing in a new tournament, South Callaway will end an era, playing its final conference game against Fatima (2-1, 2-0 Show-Me) in its Show-Me opener at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Fatima High School in Westphalia. Last season, the Bulldogs lost 68-42 to the Comets in Mokane, their smallest margin of defeat in their current four-game losing streak to Fatima.
"It's kind of bittersweet because you love playing them because of how good they are and how storied their program's been," Thomas said. "Coach (Ryan) Robertson does a great job. We got to put this one in the back of our minds and move on to them because they're the reigning champs in the conference, and they are the reigning champs until someone does something about it. We got our hands full for 'em, but we are getting ready to go back to work, and we love the process."