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Clutch performance: Helias tops St. Dominic

Dylan Gish of Helias drives to the bucket during Friday night’s game against St. Dominic at Rackers Fieldhouse.

Dylan Gish of Helias drives to the bucket during Friday night’s game against St. Dominic at Rackers Fieldhouse. Photo by Stephen Brooks.

It’s not a glamorous part of the game, but free throws can be deadly effective. Just ask the Helias Crusaders.

The Crusaders nailed all 13 of their free throws in the fourth quarter, and were 19-of-22 for the game, as they captured a 72-56 win Friday over the St. Dominic Crusaders at Rackers Fieldhouse.

“We feel that one of our big strengths this year is we can shoot the basketball,” Helias coach Josh Buffington said after his team’s 86-percent effort from the charity stripe. “To go 19-for-22, and more impressively, 13-of-13 in the fourth quarter, just shows the poise our guys have.”

The fourth-quarter effort was especially important when St. Dominic ramped up its defensive pressure. Helias, which led 55-42 heading into the period, didn’t make its first field goal in the frame until 51⁄2 minutes had gone by. But that field goal, a layup by Zach Rockers, actually increased the lead to 15 points at 65-50.

Helias eventually matched its biggest lead of the contest two free throws by Ryan Bax before settling for the 16-point win.

“St. Dominic has absolutely no quit in them, and we knew they weren’t going to,” Buffington said. “They play such a physical game, and in that fourth quarter, I thought we played on our heels a little bit. When we looked to attack, we were getting layups.

“We didn’t want to play not to lose, obviously, and our mistakes were coming when we did that.”

Helias also attacked at one other key point in the game, and it might have made the difference between a win and a loss.

Helias was clinging to a 30-24 lead when St. Dominic got the ball just before halftime. St. Dominic took the ball to the paint, but Helias did a good job contesting a layup attempt and got the defensive board. Helias then got a great outlet pass and threw the ball ahead to Josh Smith, who canned a 3-pointer just before the break.

Instead of perhaps being up just four, Helias took a 33-24 lead into intermission and St. Dominic never recovered.

“It was a heads-up play, it was a big stop, it was our kids knowing the clock,” Buffington said. “We ran the floor, kicked it ahead and Josh made a play.

“That gave us quite a bit of momentum going into the locker room, it was a big boost for our kids. We felt we played extremely hard the first two quarters and we wanted to be rewarded going into the locker room, and that’s exactly what that play did for us.”

That was part of a big game for Smith, who ended up with 13 points off the bench, second only to Rockers’ game-high 18.

“(Smith) has played at a high level for us all year long,” Buffington said. “Once again he was a huge spark for us.”

Helias, playing its first game of the season at Rackers Fieldhouse, looked eager to impress the home crowd as it jumped out to a 9-0 lead to start the game. The lead was 17-9 after the opening quarter and Helias never looked back.

“It was a great student section — we want them to come back — and it was a great crowd all the way around,” Buffington said. “We did get off to a great start and we had several times throughout the game when we went on some nice runs.”

He added he’d like to see the same type of crowd Tuesday when Helias (6-3) hosts Hickman.

“This was a great feeling and we’re excited for what’s coming up Tuesday night,” Buffington said.

In Friday’s JV game, St. Dominic posted a 51-49 win in overtime. Seth Caywood paced Helias (3-3) with 25 points and Michael Tannehill added 15.

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