Pelham keeps season alive with buzzer beater against rival Helena

By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter

HELENA – The four seed isn’t supposed to give the host much trouble, much less pull the upset on the road, but the Pelham Panthers didn’t get the memo.

Having lost their two regular season games to the Helena Huskies by a total of 41 points, and only winning one area game during the regular season, no one gave Pelham much of a shot to keep the first-round area matchup close, but that’s exactly what they did.

The Panthers came in, slowed the game down, dictated pace and came up with the game-winning basket off a drawn up play that saw Blake Floyd drive the baseline before lobbing a pass to Kendan Maddox for a tip in as time expired to lock up a playoff bid and a spot in the Class 6A, Area 8 championship with a 35-34 win.

It became apparent almost immediately that this game between the two area rivals would take on a totally different tone than their previous two matchups, as the two teams traded baskets in the opening period.

The Panthers’ slow, methodical pace immediately took the Huskies out of their comfort zone and quieted a packed house, as they took a 13-10 lead into the second quarter.

Pelham senior Xavier Lankford was huge for Pelham in the first half scoring eight points and getting to the basket to keep the Huskies on their heels defensively.

The Panthers’ leisurely style on offense nearly lulled the Huskies to sleep taking time off the clock and converting often in the paint, showing great patience in a hostile environment.

“Xavier has been our heart and soul the last two or three weeks,” said Panthers’ head coach Joel Floyd. “We’ve gone through a stretch of injury after injury, but X has just been the catalyst for us, outworks everybody just a true competitor. I’m so thankful he decided to come back from football.”

Pelham (12-13, 2-5) went on a 10-0 run from the end of the first quarter to midway through the second, but down 19-10, Helena finally made its move.

Kellen Watkins scored five points in a 9-0 run that saw the Huskies tie it up before the half at 19-19. Many expected the Huskies to come out firing after finding some rhythm before halftime, but the direct opposite happened as both teams grinded the game down offensively.

Pelham point guard Blake Floyd was big on both ends for his team, scoring the first five points of the quarter and playing exceptional defense on Helena’s best player, Duante Cave, who is a player of the year candidate in the county. He forced Cave into several turnovers and a couple of offensive fouls.

“Blake’s job was try to control Duante, control the basketball, get us in the offense and just be smart,” Floyd said. “He wasn’t supposed to score tonight, just play defense and direct traffic, but those shots those were some big shots he hit for us late.”

Pelham didn’t counter with much offensively, as the two teams wouldn’t budge and headed into the final frame tied 26-26.

Maddox had been a tough matchup for Helena throughout, as no one could match his size, but foul trouble hampered much of his influence on the game until the last few minutes.

Locked into a half court set, Maddox began to thrive getting into the lane and scoring or getting to the free throw line, but most importantly he dominated the boards on defense, which didn’t give Helena any second chance opportunities.

Helena stayed in the game with timely shooting from beyond the arc, knocking down two in the fourth to take a 32-31 lead.

Cave extended that lead with two more free throws, but Pelham ran a perfect play the next time down the floor to find a wide open Maddox to bring the deficit back to one at 34-33.

Forced to foul, Pelham put Cave back on the line for Helena, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity, giving the Panthers a shot.

Floyd again looked to get the ball to Maddox but the entry pass was knocked away with 18 seconds remaining, giving it right back to the Huskies.

Helena again stepped to the line, but dejavu occurred for a normally solid shooting team, as the Huskies failed to convert the one-and-one, which once again left the door open for Pelham with precious seconds remaining.

With 14 seconds to go, the Panthers began their offensive set, but ran into trouble and Lankford called a timeout with 4.4 seconds left on the clock.

Down one, it was win or go home for Floyd’s group coming out of that timeout, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do.

“We were looking for Kendan first and if that’s not there we were looking for Blake and I said ‘Kendan, if Blake gets it he’s going to make a play, but you’re going to have to save us at the rim.’ So really I was looking for Blake to attack,” Floyd said after the game.

And that’s exactly what he did. Coming off a screen, Blake Floyd curled around the right wing and drove baseline, which drew the eyes of several defenders.

That left Maddox with defenders not facing him up. Immediately, Blake Floyd noticed his teammate and tossed up a prayer to Maddox who grabbed the pass and calmly popped it into the basket in mid-air with one second left.

The buzzer then sounded before Helena could inbound the ball, sealing the Panthers’ upset victory.

“It’s just fun to watch, what a great high school basketball game,” Floyd said. “I’m so proud of them for executing something like that down the stretch. We had never run that play before.”

Maddox led the way scoring seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, while Lankford followed close behind with 10 and Blake Floyd with seven points and several assists, including the game-winner.

Duante Cave led all scorers with 13 for Helena.

The Huskies finish the 2019-20 season with a 21-7 record. The win places Pelham in the championship game on Friday, Feb. 7, against a Calera Eagles team that took down Chelsea earlier in the night. The Panthers and Eagles split their season series with both teams winning on the road.