Helias completes undefeated home slate with win

The Helias Crusaders did something this season they haven’t done in six years under head coach Josh Buffington.

And after wrapping up a perfect 8-0 record at Rackers Fieldhouse, the Crusaders are looking to do more this year.

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“This has been a special season for us,” Buffington said after Helias claimed a 56-40 win against Hannibal on Saturday night. “Our kids are refreshed right now, they’re having fun playing basketball and that’s the most important thing going into the last week of your season.

“They want to continue to play and we’re going to do our best to put forth that effort when we get into a one-and-done situation with postseason.”

Helias (18-6) will close out the regular season Friday at Rock Bridge before starting district play with the No. 1 seed the following Tuesday in Kirksville.

“First and foremost, we’re obviously honored by the No. 1 seed,” Buffington said. “Any time you can be a No. 1 seed going into districts, tip your hat to your kids. They deserve it, they’ve earned it.”

The Crusaders, who are on a two-game winning streak, will have a little bit of momentum going into postseason play.

While Helias didn’t put together its best shooting performance Saturday, the Crusaders found other ways to get the job done.

Helias claimed a 33-27 rebounding advantage — 11-4 on the offensive glass — and forced 21 turnovers to help pull away from Hannibal in the second quarter and put the Pirates away in the third.

“We defended extremely well tonight,” Buffington said. “Our guys really bought in to ball pressure and getting out in passing lanes. We made it really hard for them to execute in the half court.

“I thought we were relentless on the offensive boards tonight. On several possessions tonight, we’d get three or four. I know we didn’t shoot the ball up to our potential tonight, but we definitely had some great looks at it because of the way we rebounded the basketball.”

Isiah Sykes and Sam Husting both finished with 16 points to lead the Crusaders, who were 21-of-57 from the field and 7-of-13 from beyond the arc.

After a slow start for both teams, Helias came alive midway through the first quarter, ending the period on a 10-3 run to take a 16-18 lead.

The Crusaders continued that momentum in the second quarter, but Hannibal senior Eric Hugenberg capped a 8-3 run with a 3-pointer to cut the Pirates’ deficit to 21-16 with 2:10 left before the half.

It didn’t matter.

Husting scored eight points in the final two minutes as Helias ended the quarter on a 10-0 run to take a 31-16 lead entering the break. Husting finished with 11 second-quarter points after going 4-of-5 from the field, including 3-of-4 from long-range.

“A big key in the game was finishing out the second quarter on a 10-0 run,” Buffington said. “It all started on the defensive end — our intensity picked up and it forced us into some easy looks, easy opportunities.

“It was really nice to see Sammy get going tonight. He’s a great kid, he’s going to be a great basketball player. He’s so passionate about this game, so I was so happy to see that for his confidence. We need him down the stretch.”

Helias continued to dominate on the defensive end in the third quarter, forcing eight turnovers and limiting the Pirates to just two field goals.

Meanwhile, Sykes led the offensive attack with seven third-quarter points to help give the Crusaders a 42-20 advantage entering the final period.

“He let some missed shots bother him that he usually doesn’t miss,” Buffington said. “At halftime we just talked about how if we’re struggling shooting the basketball, there are other things we can do to be successful. I thought Isiah really picked it up defensively in the third quarter.”

Helias maintained at least a 20 point lead in the first four minutes of the fourth, before Hannibal ended the game on a 16-9 run.

Dylan Power scored 15 points and pulled down 15 rebounds to lead the Pirates, who were just 14-of-34 from the field.

In district play, Mexico is the No. 2 seed, Moberly is the No. 3 seed, Kirksville is the No. 4 seed, Marshall is the No. 5 seed and Fulton is the No. 6 seed.

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