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Helias loses in Classic opener

Helias loses in Classic opener

December 28th, 2018 by Greg Jackson in Sports Prep

Caleb Justice of the Helias Crusaders puts up a shot against the defense of Jake Hoffman of Mt. Lebanon (Pa.) during the game Dec. 27, 2018, in the Joe Machens Great 8 Classic at Fleming Fieldhouse.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

The Helias Crusaders have found themselves in unfamiliar territory in the Joe Machens Great 8 Classic.

With Thursday's 69-44 loss to the Mount Lebanon (Pa.) Blue Devils at Fleming Fieldhouse, Helias dropped its first opening-round game in the tournament since 2013. The Crusaders fall into the loser's bracket for just the second time in the past 11 years.

"We played those guys before the last time they came here," Helias coach Joe Rothweiler said of Mount Lebanon, which won the Classic in 2010 and beat Helias 52-30 in the semifinals. "They were one of the best-coached teams we've seen throughout the years of this tournament.

"We knew we had our hands full. I thought we should have played them a lot tighter than that."

Helias came out in a zone defense, and Mount Lebanon continuously took perimeter shots against the Crusaders. In the first quarter, the Blue Devils made 5-of-10 shots from 3-point range.

"We run that zone to actually take away the 3-point shot," Rothweiler said. "But we didn't do a great job of it. We lost their best shooter several times."

Finding the groove from 3 was Sean Loughran, Mount Lebanon's 6-foot-4 senior. He made 7-of-10 shots from 3 in the first half and had 25 of his game-high 30 points by intermission.

Loughran finished with eight 3s, tying the single-game Great 8 Classic record set earlier Thursday by CJ Anthony of Harvest Prep (Ohio).

"Any shooter that gets a couple good ones early is going to have a good night," Rothweiler said. "Our focus was to not let him get those, and we just didn't."

Mount Lebanon never trailed, making back-to-back 3s to start the game. Ben Cooper's 3 from the right wing pulled Helias within one at 6-5, but the Crusaders couldn't pull even or take the lead.

Loughran hit a 3 at the buzzer in the first quarter, extending Mount Lebanon's lead to 21-12. He added back-to-back 3s early in the second quarter to give the Blue Devils a double-digit lead.

Helias shot 47.4 percent from the field in the first half, but 12 turnovers in the first 16 minutes plagued the Crusaders, who trailed 41-22 at the break.

"They were turnovers that were forced for the most part by Mount Lebanon, but they were also turnovers where we kind of went away from our scouting report as to how we were going to try to break their pressure," Rothweiler said.

The Blue Devils had a strong 1-2 punch offensively, as Jake Hoffman finished with 20 points in the win.

Helias added six more turnovers in the third quarter — the Crusaders ended the game with 20 — and struggled from 3-point range, making just 3-of-18 attempts. Mount Lebanon (7-1) extended its lead to 59-36 by the end of the third, getting another buzzer-beating 3 from Loughran.

The Blue Devils led by as many as 27 points in the fourth.

Cooper led the Crusaders with 11 points. Jake VanLoo and Nick Brandt finished with nine and eight points, respectively, combining to make all five of Helias' free-throw attempts.

Helias (2-5) will take on Blair Oaks (5-4) at 4 p.m. today in the loser's bracket semifinals. The Crusaders have not lost back-to-back games to start the Great 8 Classic since they began playing in the tournament in 1998.

"We're going to stay positive, and we always tell our guys to look to the next play," Rothweiler said. "Now we're just going to the next game."