The Helias Crusaders are getting used to playing in close games.
They're also finding out what it takes to win them.
Helias forced three turnovers in the final two minutes and got a key offensive rebound to claim a 55-52 victory against Cape Girardeau Central on Friday night at Rackers Fieldhouse.
"We've been in some battles this year," Helias coach Josh Buffington said. "Anytime you can grind out a win, regardless of who you're playing against, you're proud of your team. We're proud of our guys' effort and their execution down the stretch to get that win."
The Crusaders, who had won three games by six points or less this season, found away to get the job done again.
With Helias trailing 52-50, junior guard Isiah Sykes stole the ball at halfcourt and finished the layup on the other end to tie the game with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter.
Sykes and Adam Bax combined to help force a turnover on the next possession and Sykes sank a free throw to put the Crusaders ahead by one with 46.5 left on the clock.
Helias (7-2) didn't let that lead slip away.
"We really wanted our guys to stay aggressive," Buffington said. "We still had a few fouls to give and we were going for the ball. Isiah and Adam made two tremendous plays on the basketball and we were able to capitalize on both of those turnovers. I thought our guys did a good job of staying aggressive and staying in position."
Bax wasn't done making his presence known on the defensive end. The sophomore drew a charge on the Tigers' next offensive possession to give Helias the ball back with 29 seconds to play.
Following a missed free throw in a bonus situation, Helias junior Hale Hentges grabbed the offensive rebound to set up a pair of free throws by Sykes that gave the Crusaders a 55-52 lead with 16.2 seconds remaining.
"It's not the first time Hale has gotten a big offensive rebound on the free-throw line," Buffington said. "That's a back-breaker. It definitely gave us some momentum in the way we finished it up. It was an emotional play for our team."
Cape Central missed two shots before Hentges could grab the the rebound to seal it for the Crusaders.
"We needed a defensive stop there," Hentges said. "We defended really well and got them to force up a shot. We all boxed out well and we just had to go get it."
The Crusaders, who were outrebounded 22-13, found themselves playing catch up for most of the game.
Cape Central jumped out to a 10-3 lead with five minutes left in the first, but Sykes and Collin Caywood knocked down a pair of 3s to bring the Crusaders within four at the end of the quarter.
"We were able to knock down shots tonight," said Sykes, who finished with 21 points and six assists. "That was a big key. Our posts did a good job of occupying other defenders and getting us open shots. They gave us a lot of room to shoot the ball."
The Tigers took a seven-point advantage early in the second quarter, but Helias stayed hot from behind the arc to remain within striking distance. Sykes and Sam Husting both hit two 3s and Caywood added one for the Crusaders, who trailed 36-34 at the half.
Helias was 11-of-22 from the floor in the first half and 10-of-13 from behind the arc.
"That totally kept us in it," Buffington said. "If the game continues at that pace, and with us not getting stops, we're going to lose that basketball game. If we don't make 10 3s, we're probably down by 15 at halftime and we might get run out of the gym. Thankfully the 3-ball did keep us in it."
Cape Central and Helias traded leads three times in the third quarter, before Caywood hit a 3 with two minutes left to give the Crusaders a 45-44 advantage entering the final period.
Helias maintained the lead early in the fourth quarter until Jamal Cox and Andre Statam hit back-to-back shots in the paint to give the Tigers a 52-50 lead with 2:43 left in the game.
It didn't matter.
"This is a big win - three in a row now, so we've got a little bit of a winning streak," Sykes said. "It's a good win to get going into our next couple games."
Cox, a 6-foot-7 senior, scored a game-high 23 points and Alfrialzo Young added 15 points to lead the Tigers, who were 23-of-43 (54.7 percent) from the field. Statam, a 6-foot-6 junior, added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Cape Central.
"Cape Central is one of the most talented teams we've seen yet - especially with their active post play," Buffington said. "They have a lot of pieces and they can do some damage."
Caywood finished with 18 points after going 6-of-9 from the 3-point line to help pace the Crusaders, who were 18-of-37 (48.6 percent) from the field and 12-of-21 from behind the arc.
Helias will return to action Tuesday at Sedalia Smith-Cotton.
"After this win, we're going to go on a nice run. I can really feel it," Caywood said. "We've got confidence in our guys and we're going to be ready to roll Tuesday."
The Helias JV team dropped a 43-42 decision when Cape Girardeau Central hit a free throw after being fouled as the final buzzer sounded.
Weston Porter paced the Crusaders (2-2) with 25 points.
The Helias freshman teams split a pair of games at Hickman.
The A team picked up a 47-35 victory to improve to 6-1 on the season. Drew Boessen led the Crusaders with 14 points.
The B team dropped a 25-18 decision to fall to 2-4 on the year. Both freshman teams are back in action Monday against Washington.