By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
QUINCY — Ben Amos might have spoken up a little too soon.
Luckily, he could laugh about it at the end of the night.
With the Quincy High School boys basketball team leading Moline by 13 points at halftime, Amos made the suggestion in the locker room if the Blue Devils won the third quarter they’d put the Maroons on the ropes.
“Coach was like, ‘On the ropes? It’s all four quarters,'” said Amos, a senior forward. “He reinforced the idea we had to play all four quarters.”
In fact, the Blue Devils had to grind to the very last second.
The Maroons went on a 16-0 run that lasted less than three minutes of the fourth quarter, taking a two-point lead with 4:35 to play. The Blue Devils regrouped, regained the lead and fully renewed their pursuit of a Western Big Six Conference championship with a 56-53 victory Friday night at packed Blue Devil Gym.
“We’ve been talking amongst us seniors about this game all week,” Quincy point guard Aaron Shoot said. “This is a game we’ve been thinking about since fifth grade, since sixth grade, seventh grade, junior days. This is the game you dream about as a kid.”
The Blue Devils (15-3, 5-1 WB6) had to win to stay in the conference title hunt.
The Maroons (16-5, 6-1 WB6) pummeled the Blue Devils 62-28 in the WB6 opener the first Friday of Decmeber and rolled into Blue Devil Gym having won six straight league games. However, Shoot didn’t play in the first matchup and showed how much of a factor his presence is at critical junctures.
He made three 3-pointers in the second quarter as Quincy outscored Moline 16-6 to grab a 29-16 halftime lead. He buried a 3-pointer from the right corner at the halftime buzzer, bouncing toward the locker room before the ball hit the net.
He was at his best when Quincy needed a calming influence.
With Moline ahead 45-43 and 3:20 to play, Shoot drove the baseline, drew a foul and made two free throws to tie the game. His three-point play on the next possession gave the Blue Devils the lead for good.
Shoot finished with a game-high 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“We gave ourselves an opportunity and then Aaron Shoot took over,” Moline coach Sean Taylor said. “I thought he was exceptional.”
He had to be with the pressure Moline threw at him.
Down 41-27 after the Blue Devils scored on the first possession of the fourth quarter, the Maroons began throwing double teams at Shoot in the backcourt to force him to give the ball up. Quincy proceeded to turn the ball over on five of six possessions, fueling Moline’s 16-0 run.
“It’s coin flip,” Taylor said. “It’s either going to work, and you’re going to get back in it, or you’re going to get beat by 20 plus. I think you have to have the guts to sort of try, and our guys did a good job of really making a lot of plays.”
Despite Shoot and the Blue Devils handling the pressure late, the Maroons nearly made enough plays to complete the rally.
With Quincy up 52-47 and 54 seconds remaining after Adonte Crider made a 3-pointer from the left corner and Shoot split a pair of free throws, Moline’s Deonte Billups was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made three free throws.
Shoot beat the press and found Jacob Ary alone for a layup to push the advantage back to four before Billups hit an off-balance 3-pointer from the left wing to make it a one-point game with 16.9 seconds left.
Again, Shoot who dribbled through the pressure and laced a pass to Amos for a layup and an insurmountable lead.
Moline missed a shot in the final seconds, and the rebound was knocked out of bounds as the clock expired.
Asked if there was a moment in the fourth quarter when he felt the Blue Devils fully settled down, Shoot said, “Honestly, I wish I could say yeah. It was one of those games until that buzzer goes off, you’re tense. Until that buzzer went off, we were fighting, we were scrapping.”