Helias boys rebound to take third place

Clay Schwinke of Helias tries to gain control of the basketball during Thursday night’s third–place game against Evangelical Christian at Fleming Fieldhouse.

Clay Schwinke of Helias tries to gain control of the basketball during Thursday night’s third–place game against Evangelical Christian at Fleming Fieldhouse. Photo by Stephen Brooks.

What a difference a day makes.

Less than 24 hours after struggling to score 30 points in a loss to Mount Lebanon (Penn.), the Helias Crusaders doubled that output Thursday and notched a 60-44 win over Evangelical Christian (Cordova, Tenn.) in the third-place game of the Mike Kehoe Great 8 Classic.

“As much as we struggled with the physical part of the game (Wednesday) night, we made every effort (Thursday) to respond physically, and our guys did that,” Helias coach Josh Buffington said.

The Crusaders also showed some mental toughness, especially when they hit another scoring slump early in the game.

After Zach Rockers canned a 3-pointer to put the Crusaders up 12-11 with 1:06 left in the first quarter, which was the score after that period, Helias stayed stuck on 12 for 5 1/2 minutes of game time.

“I think the difference was that when we did get in a funk this time, we didn’t try to get things back in one possession,” Buffington said. “We took it one possession at a time and eventually, we got out of it.”

The Crusaders were also helped by their stingy defense. By the time they got their next points — on another 3 by Rockers — they were only down 16-15.

“We kept defending and we were only allowing them one shot at the basket,” Buffington said. “That makes a huge difference.”

After Evangelical answered with a score, the Crusaders closed out the half with a 10-2 run that included a layup by Deion Hughes, two 3s by Josh Smith and a layup by Rockers just before the buzzer to go up 25-20.

“To go into the locker room with a lead, especially when we thought we hadn’t played our best basketball, was big,” Buffington said.

The Crusaders outscored the Eagles 12-8 in the third quarter to take a 37-28 edge into the fourth, where they ran their lead to 16 points twice, including the final margin.

“I think we played a tremendous second half of basketball, especially between the ears,” Buffington said.

Making the victory easy to come by was the Crusaders’ whopping 37-15 rebounding edge, a fact that stunned Buffington when told of it after the game.

“Was it that big?” he asked.

Rockers almost outrebounded the Eagles by himself, as he yanked down a game-high 11 caroms, all on the defensive end. It was part of a double-double for the senior, as he also led all players with 26 points.

“Zach had probably one of his best games since I’ve been here,” Buffington said. “Not only with his leadership, but his decision-making offensively and his intensity on the defensive end and on the boards.”

He wasn’t the only Crusader getting it done on the defensive end, as Helias’ Dylan Gish held Division I recruit Steven Kaspar to five points and Hughes limited another guard, Walter Weaver, to just nine points.

“(Kaspar) is so athletic and he has so much savvy in the way he plays,” Buffington said. “His first step is very, very explosive and Dylan did a great job on him.

“Our two guards just gave us a great defensive effort, as Deion did a great job on (Weaver), who is a great player for them, too.

“We contested everything.”

Gish was the only other player for Helias (5-3) to score in double figures, as he added 10.

Hunter Harrington paced Evangelical (6-4) with 17 points.

The Crusaders will return to action Jan. 7 when they play their first home game of the year, hosting St. Dominic at 7 p.m. at Rackers Fieldhouse.

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