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Boys' basketball: Lions pick up first league win

St. Helens snaps an 11-game losing streak on head coach Jerry Allen's birthday


by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - St. Helens head coach Jerry Allen gets animated during a timeout in the Lions' home game against Liberty. Allen says he saw belief in the team during Tuesday evening's win over Putnam, the Lions' first in league play.Finally, the Lions can breathe once again. The 11-game winless stretch is over, thanks to a blowout of Rex Putnam on the road on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Not only does it snap the losing streak, but the win is the first league victory for the Lions (3-11, 1-4), who have come frustratingly close to victories in the last several weeks, but came up empty handed.

“I think a lot of it had to do with it being my birthday,” said Head Coach Jerry Allen with a slight smile. “They stepped up and played like I know they can play.”

The game against Putnam began the way many of the earlier losses had. St. Helens got off to a hot – really hot – start, leading by three after the first quarter before putting up a season-high 30 points in the second period to take a 44-24 edge at the break.

Normally, that’s when Lion fans would start to get nervous. In the last few weeks alone, the Lions have given up first-half leads in three of their five league games, but things were different against Putnam. Seniors Tanner Long and Justin Helgerson each had 17 to lead the Lions, and senior post Corey West put up 15 points in limited minutes due to foul trouble. Regardless, St. Helens had an answer for whatever the Kingsmen threw at them, and at just the right times.

“Things that we didn’t do in the other games, we started to do in this game,” said Allen. “If we played like we did last night in games in the past, we’d have had a different outcome. We’re seven points away, and we weren’t finishing layups and throwing the ball away. Last night, we didn’t throw the ball away. We finished layups. Last night, we made our free throws. That was really it.”

Just a few days before the win at Putnam, both Allen and Long expressed frustration over a lack of toughness, especially on the defensive end. Long said the team seemed to have lost the idea of what it felt like to win, since it had been so long between victories. Allen hopes that confidence has been restored following the team’s successes against the Kingsman, but it won’t be a simple task.

The goal, as it is every season, is to make the playoffs. And in Class 5A, that means slipping into one of the top-24 places in the state’s rankings. At the moment, the Lions are ranked 31 out of 38 teams, and the road battling back into the playoff scene means knocking off some of the higher-ranked teams in the Northwest Oregon Conference. They’ll have another shot at Wilsonville and Sherwood, both of which are ranked in the top 10.

At the moment, however, the task at hand is sustaining the small measure of success the Lions have found. The team’s strength hasn’t been in a half-court offense, but rather to score on the run. Those opportunities started to come against Putnam.

“Our press created a little trouble for them, and their ball handlers didn’t handle the pressure very well,” said Allen. “We’ve got to understand that doesn’t always work. Still pressure, but don’t get beat back on defense and just remember the things we do.”

Those things are basic principles for Allen, who in an earlier interview mentioned that defense has to be the basis for everything else they do. If they can play good defense, the offense will come. The trouble is in making the most of those chances. Before playing Putnam, the team wasn’t able to get points out of those situations.

“A lot of times, we would get the turnovers, but we wouldn’t capitalize,” said Allen. “We’d throw it right back to ‘em, or we’d miss a layup. Right when we get ready to make a run, that guy who tends not to make a layup would miss a layup, and we’d get deflated and lose the confidence. Last night, the guys were finishing.”

The transition buckets and a strong press in order to force turnovers won’t always work, but Allen hopes the change in mentality will lead to further success down the road. Calling the victory a “confidence boost,” Allen said confidence will be a huge part of whether the program makes the post season, and he plans on changing up his approach to better suit the demeanor of this year’s squad.

“I can’t be neno negative. I think I create that sometimes because I get so frustrated with them, but I’ve got to learn to be more positive,” said Allen, who told of a younger player accusing him of being mean.

“I’m not mean, you’ve got to realize that,” he said. “And I’m learning to adjust my level of intensity to them and teach, and not just bicker or harp on their mistakes, but say ‘hey, we don’t need that right now.’ And they’re teaching me as we go.”

SUMMARY

St. Helens 77, Putnam 57

STHE 14 30 14 19 – 77

PUTN 11 13 21 12 – 57

St. Helens (77): Long 17, Poorman 6, Helgerson 17, Jewett 5, Baumgardner 5, Galvin, Teyema 12, West 15