Pelham defeats Helena 55-53 in last second thriller

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

PELHAM–There was plenty of hype heading into a crucial area game that featured No. 1 Pelham against No. 2 Helena on Jan. 20, and both teams delivered an instant classic that saw the Panthers prevail with less than a second to go to win 55-53 and lock up the regular season Class 6A Area 8 title.

Pelham’s Justin Allison finished the game with 14 points but none were bigger than the two free throws Allison sank with 0.1 to go in the fourth quarter to ice the game that gave Pelham a dramatic victory.

Things were not looking good for the Huskies who trailed by as much as 10 points in the fourth quarter, but mistakes by Pelham on the offensive end led to back-to-back 3-pointers by Jon Brown and Dionte Tolbert that pulled the Huskies to within 53-51 with 1:38 to go in the game.

Pelham head coach Joel Floyd admitted the Panthers had a couple of bad offensive possessions near the end of the game

“Towards the end we were trying to stretch them out and make them come out and guard us a little bit more,” Floyd said. “We had talked about smart shots and we had a couple times on a couple of possessions in the last four minutes where we took bad shots. Not that they weren’t open, but they weren’t what we wanted at that point in time. Those both led to 3-point plays or a 3-point shot on the other end so we’ve got to be smarter down the stretch but Helena made great plays and were just getting after us defensively. That was just a great high school game.”

Down by two with about 30 seconds to go, Brown hit an acrobatic turnaround jump shot to tie the game at 53.

Brown led the Huskies with 18 points while Justin Stuckey finished with 17 and Tolbert had 16.

With 24.4 seconds to go, Pelham had one last chance to try and end the game.

The Panthers put the ball in Allison’s hands and with seconds remaining Allison drove toward the basket where Brown was waiting with his hands straight up in the air. Allison went up and was able to draw a whistle from the referee with 0.1 seconds remaining.

Allison needed to make at least one free throw to all but end the game and he instead calmly sank both free throws to give Pelham a 55-53 lead.

Pelham’s Alex Reese tipped the ensuing inbounds play from the Huskies that sealed an epic victory to give the Panthers a regular season sweep of rival Helena.

After the game, Helena head coach Chris Laatsch was disappointed that a foul was called in the final second.

“You hate to see one come down to a call where a whistle is being blown with 0.1 left,” Laatsch said. “You hate that, but I’m not a big proponent of the don’t call a foul, let the kids decide. If a kid fouls then he needs to be called for a foul but I just thought our kid was vertical but he made a judgment call. He’s there to call what he sees and that’s what he saw so I’m OK with that.”

Reese led the way once again for Pelham finishing with 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.

“We talked a lot about tonight being an extremely important game to be able to go ahead and clinch the area,” Floyd said. “To clinch the area tonight was extremely important being in a three team area so that means we get to host and that means that we get to move on.”

Pelham students rushed the court in a clad of pink after the final second ticked off the clock as the game marked the annual Cancer Awareness Game between the two schools.

Pelham will have a chance to finish 4-0 in area play with one final game against Chelsea on Tuesday, Jan. 24.