By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
QUINCY — Everything the Quincy High School boys basketball team discussed during a timeout with 7.6 seconds remaining in regulation Friday night and a one-point lead over Rock Island centered around one notion.
“We were just trying to get them to shoot the worst possible shot,” Quincy point guard Aaron Shoot said.
That wasn’t going to be easy.
“We knew (Rock Island coach) Thom Sigel over there is a genius with the whiteboard,” Shoot said. “He can draw up some of the best plays I’ve seen.”
What Sigel drew up worked. After Rocky senior forward Ben Ellis set a screen, he slipped free into the middle of the lane and caught the inbounds pass only a short jumper from the basket.
Then Jirehl Brock got in the way.
The QHS junior guard blocked Ellis’ shot, hammering the ball to the ground and sending Quincy running toward the other end of the floor with the rebound. Shoot then made a pair of free throws with 1.4 seconds left to cement a 40-37 victory in Western Big Six Conference action at Blue Devil Gym.
“I told them to guard,” Quincy coach Andy Douglas said of his discussion in the huddle with the Blue Devils leading 38-37. “We’ve had some inbounds defensive plays where we just look like we’re looking up at the ceiling when you need a stop. I told them to find someone, be physical, communicate through screens and be tough. They were.”
None were tougher than Brock.
“Another Jirehl play,” Douglas said. “Just another Jirehl play.”
That play doesn’t get made if Ben Amos doesn’t hold his ground.
The 6-foot-5 senior forward was guarding Ellis man-to-man, and instead of fouling Ellis as he caught the ball, Amos stayed flat-footed and extended his arms straight up. It forced Ellis to adjust before attempting the shot.
“He changed his shot to where the ball was presented for me,” Brock said. “That’s where I came in with the block.”
That’s what foiled Sigel’s plan.
“It was a little slip action that we can run against man or zone,” Sigel said. “That was the play we wanted. The result wasn’t quite what we thought it was going to be.”
Nor was the result of the other WB6 game played Friday night.
United Township handed Moline its third straight loss, beating the Maroons 57-54 to give Quincy no worse than a share of its 23rd conference championship. The Blue Devils (17-4, 7-1 WB6) have a two-game lead in the loss column with games remaining at United Township next week and at home against Galesburg in the regular-season finale.
Getting to this point took resiliency and ingenuity.
Quincy trailed 20-16 at halftime after being held scoreless the final 4 minutes, 55 seconds of the first half. Another two-minute drought at the end of the third quarter put the Blue Devils in a 33-24 hole. Jayden Tucker’s pull-up jumper with two seconds left in the third quarter gave the Rocks their biggest lead.
However, the Rocks (12-10, 4-3 WB6) turned the ball over on the first two possessions of the fourth quarter and the Blue Devils converted on both to ignite the comeback.
Amos scored the second basket off an assist from Shoot, was fouled and made the free throw. Amos didn’t have a touch in the post in the second quarter, but responded with seven of his 13 points in the fourth quarter. That included a critical offensive rebound and putback to make it a two-point game with 4:07 to play.
“That’s one of the reasons they jumped on us in the first half,” said Shoot, who had 13 points and two assists. “We kind of got away from going to him. It wasn’t intentional. It just kind of happened. All week in practice we knew he’d a be a key. Once we started going back to him, it all started coming together.”
Amos tied the game at 36 with a layup with 2:45 to play. JaMir Price gave the Rocks back the lead by splitting two free throws with 2:08 to go before Quincy’s Jaeden Smith made his only basket of the night, stepping into a 19-foot jumper with 1:45 to go for a 38-37 advantage.
Quincy, which had switched from its traditional 1-2-2 zone to man-to-man a couple of times in the fourth quarter, went back to the man-to-man in the final minute and forced Rocky to turn the ball over on two of its final three possessions.
The Rocks committed seven of their 15 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
“That man-to-man pressure kind of rattled them,” Shoot said.
The Blue Devils sensed that.
“We got out of our zone, which we’re not always comfortable doing,” Douglas said. “But I’m confident they can do it. We go into the huddle after we tied the game up and I asked them, ‘Are you comfortable in man or zone?’ All five guys yelled, ‘Man, man, man. Stay in man.’ It’s easy from a coach’s standpoint to go with what they trust. I trust these guys, and they were able to pull it out.”