Helias boys down Normandy in Class 4 quarterfinal

Crusaders advance to Final Four

Helias forward Hale Hentges and the Crusaders will be looking to advance to the Class 4 Final Four when they take on Normandy today in a state quarterfinal.

Helias forward Hale Hentges and the Crusaders will be looking to advance to the Class 4 Final Four when they take on Normandy today in a state quarterfinal. Photo by Kris Wilson.

Update: Helias beat Normandy 63-57 to advance to the Class 4 Final Four.

The Crusaders (22-7) will play defending champion Republic (25-4) in the boys basketball semifinals at 7:45 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena.

News Tribune sports reporter Tony Hawley provided updates on Twitter during today's game. Read his Twitter reports now and check out a full game story posted later online and in Sunday's newspaper.

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Tony Hawley reports

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Earlier preview story:

With a roster boasting four 6-foot-5 players, the Helias Crusaders are used to looking down at their opponents.

That won’t be the case today.

When the Crusaders (21-7) take on Normandy (16-13) at 2:45 p.m. today at Francis Howell High School in the Class 4 quarterfinals, the Vikings will have plenty of size to match that of Helias.

“They’ll have four 6-5 kids on the floor most times,” Helias coach Josh Buffington said. “Size is something we’ve gone into most games thinking will be an advantage for us, but not necessarily in this game.”

And it’s not like they’re just a bunch of big bruisers who play a plodding style of basketball.

“They use their length very well in their 1-2-2 matchup zone that they play, that’s the staple of their program defensively,” Buffington said. “They’re looking to get deflections, and when they do and turn you over, they will run on you. But they will get in a halfcourt game with you as well and they’ll punch it inside and be very patient.

“They’re a well-coached basketball team and they’re playing good basketball right now.”

The Vikings finished second in the state in Class 4 last season, falling 54-51 to Republic in the state title game. Much like last year, when they won six straight postseason games to improve a so-so record, the Vikings have done the same this time around.

“Don’t let their record fool you,” Buffington said. “At 16-13, they’re playing very good basketball right now. And it’s the teams that are always playing well late that make a run in the playoffs.

“They’ve won six in a row and it’s hard to forgot that last year at 14-8, they made a run in the playoffs and made it all the way to state championship game and lost a close one. They’re defending runner-ups, they earned it last year and they’re showing that they want to do it again.”

The Vikings return three players who started in the title game and two reserves who played in that contest. Leading the way is Gerard Fuller, who averages 15.8 points per game. Terrick Blair adds 14.0 points and a team-high 4.8 rebounds per game, while Romalus Tabb adds 11.3 ppg.

“(Fuller) is really, really good,” Buffington said.

The Crusaders are coming off a last-second win, as Adam Bax’s buzzer-beating layup helped them slip past St. Charles by a 57-56 score Wednesday.

“We have to take care of the basketball (today),” Buffington said. “We had too many turnovers (Wednesday) night, no question about it.”

That’s going to be paramount against Normandy.

“Valuing each possession is the No. 1 key, and the No. 2 key against these guys is rebounding the basketball at both ends,” Buffington said. “We have to do everything we can to have more possessions than them, and that’s the two best ways to do that.”

One year after going 14-13 and missing the state playoffs, the Crusaders are making their third appearance in the quarterfinals in Buffington’s six years at the school.

“It’s been a two-year project with this group, and what’s crazy is we’re still a young team. We have sophomores contributing and the bulk of our team is juniors,” Buffington said. “It’s been a project and it’s something that we’ve seen flashes for two years.

“About two or three weeks ago we really got over the hump with accepting the identity of this team and our roles offensively and defensively. From that point on, we really haven’t looked back.

“It’s been a great season. It’s been one of the most fun seasons I’ve been a part of — it’s a great group of kids and I’m really excited for the success they’re having because they totally deserve it and they’ve totally earned it.”

The Crusaders, who started out the season with a 10-2 mark, hit a couple bumps down the stretch but still surpassed the 20-win plateau.

“We really pride ourselves on our schedule,” Buffington said. “We’ve really been in some battles this year, and we’ve won some of them and lost some of them. But every experience you’re in, throughout the grind of a long high-school basketball season, helps you in the long run, and our guys realize that. They’ve really matured as a group this year.”

The winner of today’s game will advance to the Final Four at Mizzou Arena for a semifinal game at 7:45 p.m. Friday against the winner of today’s game between Republic (24-4) and St. Francis Borgia (19-8).

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