COLUMBUS - It is a matter of debate which aspect of Ottawa-Glandorf guard Matt Kaufman's performance had the greater impact - his drive for a game-tying layup at the end of regulation or his all-day defensive effort on All-Ohioan Zac Carter.
In truth, the Titans needed both and then some in turning back Ironton 61-60 in overtime in a Division III state boys basketball tournament semifinal at Value City Arena here Thursday.
Ottawa-Glandorf, a semifinalist last year, will take on Versailles Saturday at 10:30 a.m. for the championship. Versailles downed Leavittsburg Labrae 64-52 in Thursday's second game.
T.J. Metzger's foul shot with 1.1 seconds remaining was the game-winner for the Titans, who improved to 25-3 while outlasting the Tigers.
"We might not be the best basketball players out on the court, but you cannot question the heart of our kids and you cannot question their toughness," O-G coach Tyson McGlaughlin said. "These guys are all athletes who are used to winning."
They appeared on their way to a rare loss when, after Josh Glover hit two foul shots to give Ironton a 54-48 lead, Metzger's missed 3-pointer was grabbed by Tiger manchild Trey Fletcher.
But O-G's Caleb Siefker came up with a steal and drew a foul while attempting a 3-pointer. He made all three free throws and when Kaufman added a steal and feed to Siefker for a layup, it was 54-53 with 35 seconds left.
Fletcher made one foul shot but missed a second at the other end and McGlaughlin called for time with 13 seconds left to set up what became Kaufman's drive for a surprisingly easy game-tying layup.
"We had a play, but they picked up the pressure outside," Kaufman said. "When I got the ball, I looked for an opening. There was no one in the paint, so I took it to the basket. It was almost too easy."
Ironton coach Mark LaFon chose his words carefully regarding the play.
"We wanted to play defense the way we always do," he said. "We felt we could get someone on offense to make a mistake and we thought we did that. Sometimes things don't go the way you need them to go. They just made a play. That's the bottom line."
Carter entered averaging nearly 24 points per game, but the Titans - Kaufman mostly - limited the 5-foot-9 guard to 12 points, seven in regulation. Fletcher did a huge job of picking up the slack with 27 points on 11-of-15 shooting with 13 rebounds.
"Every coach we talked to about Ironton said he's the best player we're going to see all year," McGlaughlin said of Carter. "Now we play a pretty good schedule, but I kept saying to the guys he's the best player we've seen. I wanted to (stir them up) a little. We take pride in the way we play defense."
"He's a great player and he's going to get his shots," Kaufman said. "I just tried to disrupt him whatever way I could."
Carter, who had twice scored 30 in regional wins over Martins Ferry and Oak Hill but was said to have suffered a deep thigh bruise in the latter game, said scoring on the Titans was a tall order.
"They're long and they're hard to get around," he said. "Every shot was contested and they did a good job on help. They all played great defense."
Still, the Tiger guard hit a 3-pointer to match two foul shots by Michael Rosebrock and one by Metzger. Metzger, who led O-G with 25 points, made two more free throws but Carter did also to tie it at 60-60 with 35 seconds left.
The Titans ran down the clock until Metzger started a foul-lane drive with a few seconds left, drawing a foul from Aaron Stephens. He missed the first, but made the second.
"I need the ball to do what I can do in that situation," he said. "I went down the lane and tried to get an and-one, but I didn't make the shot.
"I try not to think about things at the foul line," he said of the added anxiety resulting from the first-shot miss. "But my body was shaking a little. I don't think I had any legs left."
Kaufman had 11 points and six assists to back Metzger. Rosebrock (nine rebounds) and Noah Bramlage added eight points apiece. Trevor White had 14 points for Ironton (23-3).
VERSAILLES ZONED IN - A switch to a 2-3 zone was the difference for Versailles (23-5) in its win over Labrae.
The Tigers had watched a 21-14 first-quarter lead disappear when Labrae, led by All-Ohioan Peyton Aldridge, rallied to take a 37-33 halftime lead.
Aldridge, who came in averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds per game, scored 13 of his game-high 23 in the quarter on 6-of-8 shooting.
"We had to take the ball out of his hands somehow and we were able to do that with our 2-3 zone," Versailles coach Scott McEldowney said. "We hadn't played much zone during the year, but throughout the tournament, we've gone to it some and it's been pretty good to us."
It certainly did the trick for the Tigers in this one. Versailles limited Labrae to 15 second-half points, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
Aldridge hit a 3-pointer for a 45-44 Viking lead with 2:51 left in the third period. But Labrae managed just two points, a short jumper by Aldridge, over the next 10:20.
"We talked at half about getting into his body a little more," McEldowney said. "We felt we needed to get a little more physical with him. When we moved out feet and got a little more physical, we were able to slow him down a little."
By the time the Vikings (24-4) finally broke loose on an Aldridge putback, just 31 seconds remained and the game was long gone. An 18-2 Versailles advantage over that span sealed the win.
"It was a tale of two halves," Labrae coach Chad Kiser said. "We were able to get things going our way in the second quarter because we were able to play more to our pace.
"We knew, coming out of halftime, they were going to go to the 2-3 zone," he said. "We needed to be patient on offense and we needed to make sure we rebounded at the other end. We didn't do a very good job of either."
While Aldridge was most of the show for Labrae - Chris Clevenger was next on the scoring list with seven points - Versailles had two big scorers to counter.
Kyle Ahrens and Damien Richard each tossed in 21 points for the Tigers. Each had eight field goals and each had a couple 3-pointers. Chad Winner also had a pair of treys on his way to eight points with five assists. It was Winner's 3-pointer with 2:38 left in the third period that put Versailles on top for good at 47-45.
"That's probably the best shooting team we've seen this year," Kiser said. "Those two guys had about 90 percent of their points at the half. They can shoot it, that's for sure."