While the final score might not suggest it, Helias had a real chance against the state's top-ranked team.
The Crusaders hung with Class 5 No. 1 Hickman for the most part Friday night. An 8-minute, 46-second scoring drought was just too much to overcome for Helias, as it fell 57-36 at Rackers Fieldhouse.
"I thought we played them as hard and tough as we possibly could," Helias coach Josh Buffington said. "Their athleticism just got the best of us in about four spurts. We're proud of our guys.
"The postgame talk in the locker room was a very positive talk. At the same time, our guys were upset. They wanted to win this game, and we really felt like coming down the stretch we were going to have a chance at pulling off an upset. I know the score doesn't reflect that, but if anyone was here, they know it was a lot closer than 21."
Hickman took a 12-11 lead after one quarter before Helias' Isiah Sykes nailed a 3-pointer from the wing to put the Crusaders ahead 14-12 with 5:10 to go in the second quarter.
By the time Helias scored again at the 4:24 mark of the third quarter - yes, the third quarter - Hickman had rattled off 19 straight points to seemingly take control of the game.
"Hickman happened," Buffington said, putting it simply. "They stepped it up about two notches. They got out in passing lanes, they really pressured the ball, they got us off our spots and we were having to start our offense too far away from the basket.
"We missed some gimmes. You can't miss those against them because they have so many kids that can get down the floor and they score off so many run-outs."
So with Hickman ahead 31-14 against a .500 Class 4 squad, it was game over, right? Not so fast.
Helias cut the lead to 38-26 heading into the final period and got within 40-32 on a pair of baskets from Michael Tannehill with 5:22 left.
"It says a lot of our guys," Buffington said. "The No. 1 key tonight was, "Don't quit, keep defending. No matter what happens on the offensive end, you can still defend.' I thought our kids did a tremendous job."
Down just eight and with plenty of time remaining, Helias had three straight chances to cut into that lead. Unfortunately for the Crusaders, those possessions went turnover, turnover, missed shot.
"To be playing the No. 1 team in Class 5, a team as athletic and talented as they are, and to have it at eight points with four minutes to go and three straight possessions with the ball, what more can you really ask for?" Buffington asked.
Hickman then scored seven straight points on a pair of free throws from Jimmy Whitt, a putback from Cecil Williams and a 3-pointer from Chris Clark. That just about sealed the victory.
With Helias in a rush for offense, Hickman was able to put on the finishing touches, highlighted by a pair of emphatic dunks from Whitt in the final seconds.
Whitt was the star of the night with 20 points for Hickman, and Mason Murray added 12.
Sykes was the lone Crusader in double figures with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Hale Hentges added nine points and 10 rebounds. Dylan Gish, playing in his third game since missing the past two seasons with ACL tears, had eight points on 3-of-8 shooting. He played the majority of the contest.
Helias had its chances, but was undone by shooting 13-of-42 (31 percent) from the floor.
"We're in a bit of a shooting slump right now, which means our guys need to start getting up some extra shots in practice, game shots especially," Buffington said.
Top-ranked Hickman improves to 20-2 on the season. Helias (11-11) hosts Father Tolton on Tuesday.
"You can take a lot from this game," Buffington said. "You can learn a lot from a loss. I was proud our kids' grit. This one is going to help us toward the end."
Helias won Friday's JV game 60-48.
Sam Husting led the Crusaders with 18 points. Chase Bexten and Alex Barton added 13 points each. The Crusaders are now 17-3.