Helena wins thriller over Pelham to claim area championship

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA–It was evident from the start that post season basketball had arrived as Helena and Pelham battled to the last second in a thrilling 38-37 game in favor of the Huskies the night of Friday, Feb. 9.

The Class 6A Area 8 championship game didn’t lack drama inside a packed Helena High School gymnasium as Helena snuck out a tough one-point win.

In a crazy finish, Pelham’s Justin Allison nearly won the game for the Panthers as he jumped up to steal a ball near midcourt with one second remaining and flung a one-handed shot that found the bottom of the net. However, the ball was still in his hand as the buzzer sounded and the shot was waved off as Helena players, fans and students celebrated the win on their home floor.

Allison finished the night with 15 points to lead all scorers and needed another half-second to send the Panthers home with a win.

“Coach Floyd does a tremendous job and has an unbelievable player in Justin Allison with a desire to win,” Helena head coach Chris Laatsch said. “They’re so competitive and coach does an unbelievable job preparing them. We just didn’t have our best shooting night and they had a lot to do with that. We missed a bunch of layups because they guarded the rim well and we missed a bunch of free throws which is uncharacteristic of us but our kids found a way to win. Whether it was getting a deflection or a turnover or getting an offensive rebound to get another shot to keep possessions alive. I’m so proud of them, because it wasn’t easy.”

Helena wasn’t as sharp shooting the basketball as the Huskies made just three 3-pointers as a team and finished 8-of-17 from the free throw line when they normally average well above 50 percent.

The good news for Helena was that Pelham had a tough time scoring the ball as well as the Panthers scored just 12 first-half points.

Helena led 16-12 at halftime as both teams came out of the locker room to heat up in the third quarter.

The Huskies held a solid 28-20 advantage with under three minutes to go in the third quarter when Pelham went on a 6-1 run to end the quarter.

Pelham kept the momentum going into the final eight minutes as the Panthers were looking to pull off the upset. To open the quarter, Blake Floyd hit a big 3-pointer as Allison and Chris Brown also made baskets to give Pelham a 33-30 lead with five minutes to go in the game.

With their backs against the wall, a senior for Helena stepped up in a big way.

Helena’s Deven Tucker scored seven of his 10 points in the final quarter after fighting for numerous offensive rebounds that led to second chance opportunities. Tucker and Dionte Tolbert both led Helena with 10 points.

“I thought all four of our seniors, led by Deven, started just saying ‘we’re not losing’ and they just refused to lose,” Laatsch said. “I thought Deven’s energy, effort and passion set the tone that everybody followed and that’s what seniors are supposed to do. Deven was an absolute man on the offensive glass.”

Clinging to a 38-37 lead, Pelham had 7.2 seconds left to win the game but threw the ball away with one second remaining. Helena attempted to throw the ball to midcourt where Allison’s last second opportunity came up short.

Both Helena and Pelham will advance to the Class 6A Sub-Regional round of the playoffs. Both teams could meet again in the Elite Eight on Feb. 21 by winning in the next two rounds of the playoffs.