By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
QUINCY — A playful prediction brought about a passionate response.
The Illinois boys wanted everyone to take note of that, too.
After Easton Billings buried a 3-pointer to give Illinois a 61-47 lead with nine minutes remaining in regulation Saturday night in the 35th annual McDonald’s/Herald-Whig Classic boys game, the Land of Lincolners called a 30-second timeout.
It was simply to acknowledge the score.
Chandler Bevans predicted publicly that Missouri would win 82-60. Whether it was meant to be playful or boastful didn’t really matter to the Illinois all-stars. They took it as a challenge.
“The boys didn’t know it, but I told Aaron (Shoot) when we got over 60 to call a timeout,” Illinois coach Curtis Stout said. “It was like, ‘Hey, Chandler, we got over 60.’ We did it, but I was completely afraid that we were going to make Chandler mad, and he was going to go off and Missouri would go on a run.”
The Show-Me State did make it interesting, trimming the deficit to single digits on three occasions in the final three minutes. However, Illinois held on for a 76-68 victory at John Wood Community College’s Student Activity Center.
It was the lowest scoring game in Classic history with 144 total points scored, and Illinois’ 76 points is the lowest total for a winning team in Classic history.
None of that mattered in the end. Only one thing did.
“82-60. Enough said,” said Ben Amos, the Quincy High School forward who was named the most outstanding player for Illinois, which won for the ninth straight time and 33rd overall.
Bevans’ prediction appeared in print and online Saturday morning, and word of it quickly spread throughout the Illinois roster.
“We all have a group chat now,” Pittsfield’s Noah Mendenhall said. “We titled the group chat ’82-60.’ We walked into practice (Saturday) morning and Coach Stout already had 82-60 written on the board. I was like, ‘All right, let’s go.'”
Illinois never let go of that motivation.
Missouri was held scoreless the first four minutes, didn’t make its second basket until 12:36 remained in the first half and trailed by double digits after Brown County’s Tanner Sussenbach buried a 3-pointer from the left wing.
“A 10-point deficit felt like we were trailing by 60,” Missouri coach Ryan Wood said.
That’s because Missouri shot just 28.6 percent from the field in the first half, going 6 of 22 from inside the 3-point stripe.
“We didn’t capitalize like we should have and didn’t make the shots like we could have in the first half,” said Palmyra’s Peyton Plunkett, who was named Missouri’s most outstanding player after finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds. “I’m glad we could make it a game and make it enjoyable for everyone.”
A short stretch of the second half made a comeback unlikely.
Missouri trailed 35-27 when Illinois went on a 9-1 run, highlighted by a three-point play by Mendenhall and a dunk in transition by Amos.
“At halftime, we said, ‘We’re beating them, but we’re not beating them by enough,'” Mendenhall said. “We went ahead and put the gas pedal down and just kept playing.”
So did the Show-Me State.
Illinois’ lead grew as big as 16 points on Amos’ dunk and stayed between 11 and 15 points until Mark Twain’s Grant Peters made a hook shot with 5:25 to play that trimmed the deficit to 67-58.
Amos, who finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, pushed the lead back to double digits by making two free throws 12 seconds later, and his layin with 4:33 to go had Illinois up 72-58.
A six-point run capped by a 3-pointer from Clark County’s Cole Kirchner trimmed the deficit to 72-64. Missouri never got any closer.
“We said if we got down at any point, we were going to put the grit down and make it a game,” Plunkett said.
A layup by Shoot, who had 11 points and six assists, and two free throws by Mendenhall, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, in the final two minutes put the game away.
“What made it more fun was the talent that was here,” Mendenhall said. “The atmosphere was crazy. It was awesome.”
35th Annual McDonald’s/Herald-Whig Classic
Illinois 76, Missouri 68
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb pf pts
Francis 0-7 6-8 5 3 6
Plunkett 5-12 6-10 10 3 16
Bevans 4-15 0-2 8 1 8
Smith 1-4 2-2 3 1 5
Miller 4-6 0-0 2 3 11
Pence 1-4 2-2 5 3 5
Waelder 2-5 0-0 2 2 4
Johnson 0-1 0-0 4 1 0
Kirchner 1-8 1-3 4 0 4
Peters 4-10 1-3 8 2 9
Totals 22-72 18-30 51 19 68
Player fg-fga ft-fta reb pf pts
Shoot 5-11 0-0 4 3 11
Klusmeyer 2-6 0-2 0 1 5
Mendenhall 3-9 4-8 7 3 11
Billings 6-11 0-0 4 2 14
Amos 7-15 5-7 8 4 20
Sussenbach 3-9 2-4 3 1 9
Little 0-4 0-0 4 3 0
Drake 2-6 0-1 5 4 4
Wallingford 1-1 0-0 5 4 2
Totals 29-72 11-22 41 25 76
Halftime score — Illinois 34, Missouri 25. 3-point field goals — Missouri 6-27 (Francis 0-4, Plunkett 0-2, Bevans 0-4, Smith 1-2, Miller 3-5, Penc 1-3, Waelder 0-2, Kirchner 1-5), Illinois 7-31 (Shoot 1-4, Klusmeyer 1-3, Mendenhall 1-5, Billings 2-4, Amos 1-3, Sussenbach 1-5, Little 0-4, Drake 0-3). Assists — Missouri 10 (Smith 3), Illinois 18 (Shoot 6). Steals — Missouri 5 (Francis, Bevans, Pence, Kirchner, Peters), Illinois 12 (Little 4). Blocks — Missouri 2 (Bevans, Miller), Illinois 4 (Amos 2). Turnovers — Missouri 18, Illinois 15. Officials — Bill Treaster, Wayne McPike Noah Brinkman.
You can register for basketball camp at the door. Please show up at least 10 minutes prior to your start time so that we can get you registered. Thank you.
By JEFF WENDLAND
Special to the Herald-Whig
GENESEO, Ill. — It took all of six minutes for the Pledge of Allegiance, a quick roll call, a short presentation by superintendent Scott Kuffel and a 5-0 vote for the Geneseo School Board to approve the school’s move to the Western Big Six Conference at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
Sterling athletic director Greg King met with his School Board a few hours later to map out its intentions to also join the WB6, with the decision officially announced Thursday morning in a press release.
The former Northern Illinois Big 12 rivals are joining Rock Island Alleman, Rock Island, Moline, United Township, Galesburg and Quincy in a yet-to-be renamed conference for the 2019-20 school year.
King said Sterling looked at every option available, and it came down to either the Big Six or playing as an independent.
“Our superintendent told the board it will be an administrative decision, so no board vote was needed,” he said.
Quincy High School athletic director Scott Douglas says everybody in the league is excited.
“We are bringing in two quality schools with great athletic programs,” he said. “This is going to be a great endeavor.”
Alleman principal and WB6 president Dave Hobin said the league has been open to growth for a long time.
“We came close in 2013 (when the WB6 considered adding Peoria-area schools), but this just fit perfect for all sides,” he said. “Our schools are unanimously behind this decision.”
Kuffel said Sterling’s administration got the talks with the WB6 rolling in recent weeks.
“When the Big 12 lost several teams, we had a deal with the Interstate 8 Conference,” Kuffel said about a Joliet-area league. “A couple of weeks ago, there was talk of adding an eighth team to the I-8. It came down to Sterling or Sycamore, and Sycamore was the choice.
“That left Sterling without a conference, and they approached the Big 6. But they wanted to have eight teams and said, ‘What would Geneseo do if they were invited.’ When Sterling came to us, it just made too much sense geographically.”
Geneseo athletic director Joe Nichols said Sterling did a lot of the legwork.
“We wanted Sterling with us in the Interstate 8, and when (the Interstate 8) went with Sycamore, it really became a problem in terms of miles we were going to have to travel,” Nichols said. “We wanted to be tied with Sterling, and when they stepped forward to go to the Big 6, we were all in.
“We met with our coaches and had an informal vote whether to proceed. It was unanimous to pursue this.”
Geneseo school board president Doug Ford called the vote a “no-brainer.”
“The data all shows it is the way to go,” he said. “It is really something that should have been done 20 years ago. Our coaches love it, and I haven’t heard any backlash from our fans.”
Kuffel said the move is going to save the district plenty of money and get the school’s teams home a lot earlier than they have in recent years. He said travel in the NIB-12 was 26,000 miles for athletics last year, and that figure will be between 14,000 and 15,000 miles in the WB6.
“That savings is huge, and it is good for our kids and fans,” Kuffel said. “If we went with the I-8, our average travel would have been 70 miles per game. In the Big 6, it will be 50 — and that’s including Quincy trips. I’d say our fans are going to enjoy a Geneseo at Rock Island game a whole lot more than a Geneseo at Kaneland trip.”
Quincy will add trips of 160 and 200 miles with the expansions.
“I’d rather not talk about downsides at this point. This is all about the positives,” Douglas said.
Geneseo will finish out its NIB-12 schedule for the 2018-19 school year.
Kuffel said he has heard plenty of talk about the Maple Leafs joining the WB6 as the “little brother,” but he is confident in what his school’s teams can do.
“Our coaches and athletes believe we will compete,” he said.
Nichols says the move won’t be easy, especially juggling two conferences in 2018-19.
“I would think we will be getting together with all of the Big 6 athletic directors and start to work on scheduling,” he said. “Some of the Big 6 school programs are scheduled 10 years out. What I do know is … we are looking at four extra conference games for every current league team.”
Congratulations to Ben Amos and Aaron Shoot on making the Quincy Herald Whig’s 1st Team. Jaeden Smith was nominated for 2nd Team All Area.
By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
Aaron Shoot knew subconsciously where his destiny lied.
When the radio broadcast of a Quincy High School boys basketball game is part of the soundtrack to your birth, you’re bound to be a Blue Devil, right?
“It’s in my blood,” Shoot said with a smile.
In the hours leading up to Jill Shoot giving birth to her second son in Blessing Hospital on March 14, 2000, her husband, Todd, listened to Quincy square off against Peoria Richwoods in the Class AA super-sectional.
The overlapping of the two events seemed like happenstance until this winter. When the Blue Devils were on the verge of finishing the regular season with a 21-4 record — the best mark since the 1999-2000 team went 21-4 as well — Todd Shoot picked up on the twist of fate and shared it on social media.
That’s when Aaron Shoot bought in to the idea he was destined to do this.
“I wanted to be a Blue Devil,” he said. “I dreamed about it.”
He played out those dreams long before he ever took the Blue Devil Gym floor.
“I remember the guys I used to pretend to be,” Shoot said. “Isaiah Johnson, Zach Forbes, those kind of guys. I used to go home and do commentary of myself making buzzer-beaters and pretending to be those guys.”
The next generation of Blue Devil dreamers will be emulating the 2018 Herald-Whig Player of the Year.
A third-team all-state selection by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and an honorable mention all-state pick by the Associated Press, Shoot helped the Blue Devils regain luster that had been lost.
The 23-5 record marked the most victories since 2007. A third straight Western Big Six Conference championships is the longest title streak since winning seven straight WB6 crowns from 1997-83. The Class 4A regional championship was the first postseason title since 2009, ending the longest drought in program history.
“It was everything you work for and everything you dream about since you were a little kid coming to fruition and coming together,” Shoot said. “The fact I got to do this alongside my best friends, that make it sweeter. I’ve said it all year and I say it all the time, they become part of your family.
“Being able to accomplish those things that not me but all of us wanted to do and looked forward to doing, that’s something special.”
It wouldn’t have happened were it not for Shoot’s leadership.
Two of Quincy’s four regular-season losses came during a four-game stretch in which he was sidelined with an ankle injury early in the year.
Following the Collinsville Prairie Farms Holiday Classic, the Blue Devils went 10-1 during the remainder of the regular season with the only loss coming to Webster Groves, which won the Class 5 state championship in Missouri on Saturday. In that game, the Blue Devils trailed by 17 heading into the fourth quarter when Shoot scored 13 of his 23 points and pulled Quincy within one.
His fourth-quarter magic became expected.
The Blue Devils trailed Rock Island 33-24 going into the fourth quarter when Shoot engineered a rally. He scored six points, had two assists, a steal and a rebound as Quincy outscored the Rocks 16-7 over the final eight minutes and won 40-37.
Quincy led by five going to the fourth quarter in the regular-season finale against Galesburg when Shoot scored 16 of his 23 points, going 5 of 5 from the field and 6 of 6 from the line, to secure a 51-41 victory and the best regular-season record since the 1999-2000 team.
“He took advantage of every opportunity to make his senior season special,” Quincy coach Andy Douglas said.
The coaching staff expected that long before this season began.
Douglas was asked when he knew Shoot would be special.
“First time I watched him play,” he replied. “You knew he had a little something different in him. That kid just lived, breathed basketball and wanted to be the man on the top stage.”
Basketball was his passion.
“For the longest time, basketball has been a huge part of me, of my family, of who I’ve become,” Shoot said. “Without the sport, without the game, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. That’s the most important thing.
“You can strip me of all the wins and the accolades and all the things like that. When it comes down to it, it’s taught me about character. It’s taught me about leadership. It’s taught me about life. I’ve learned lessons in all three of those things that can’t be replaced.”
Nor can the memories he helped create.
“When you see the Blue Devil come out, and you’re sitting up there (in the grade school section of Blue Devil Gym), it kind of becomes imbedded in your mind, especially if you play basketball, that this is what you want to do,” Shoot said. “You want to be out on that court in front of all those people playing in front of the city of Quincy.
“There’s nothing like it.”
AARON SHOOT: BY THE NUMBERS
3 — WB6 championship teams Shoot played on
9 — Consecutive WB6 games the Blue Devils won with Shoot in the lineup
14.7 — Shoot’s scoring average
21 — Most regular-season victories since the 1999-2000 team
37-3 — Quincy’s record at home the past three seasons with Shoot on the varsity
42.2 — Shoot’s 3-point shooting percentage
84.1 — Shoot’s free-throw shooting percentage
2,018 — Victories in program history. Quincy reached the 2,000-victory plateau in December, becoming the third program in Illinois to do so.
By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
QUINCY — It’s no secret what the Quincy High School boys basketball team plans to do defensively.
How the Blue Devils do it is the mystery opponents have struggled to reveal.
Alton coach Eric Smith had an idea after the Blue Devils’ 1-2-2 zone held the Redbirds 25 points below their season scoring average in last Friday’s 57-36 victory in the Class 4A Quincy Regional championship game at Blue Devil Gym.
“It’s their physicality,” Smith said. “We had trouble scoring. Usually, we spend a little more time going to the free-throw line and going to the rim. But they don’t let you do that. We told our kids that’s the way it was going to be. They are big, physical, strong kids.”
Combine that with Quincy’s quickness at the guard spots, and it’s been a tough combination to crack.
During the eight-game winning streak the sixth-ranked Blue Devils (23-4) carry into Tuesday’s Class 4A Pekin Sectional semifinal against second-ranked Belleville West (27-2) at Alton High School, they have allowed just 38.8 points per game. The only team to score more than 41 points in that stretch was Geneva, but the Blue Devils led 53-25 before pulling the starters.
Opponents are shooting just 38.3 percent from the field in that same stretch.
“It all starts with energy which leads to our communication which kickstarts our defense,” Quincy senior point guard Aaron Shoot said. “When our defense gets going, our offense gets going.”
Both will have to be in sync to challenge the Maroons.
Belleville West hasn’t lost since an 81-77 overtime setback against St. Louis Chaminade in the Belleville East Classic championship game Jan. 20. In the 10 victories since, the Maroons have scored 80 or more points three times and reached 100 points once.
Belleville West is averaging 74.6 points per game.
Alton averaged 61 points per game and Collinsville, which Quincy beat in the regional opener, averaged 60 points per game. Neither reached 40. Rock Island, which won a regional title and faces Moline in the other Pekin Sectional semifinal, scored just 37 points against Quincy in their most recent meeting.
That’s 17 points below the Rocks’ season average.
“I can’t say enough good things about the way our guys play defense and the effort they put into,” Quincy coach Andy Douglas said. “They love drawing charges. They love creating turnovers. They love causing havoc.
“It’s what we’ve been really good at doing, but we know that won’t be easy to do moving forward.”
Belleville West hasn’t scored less than 62 points in a game this season.
Having a dynamic presence like E.J. Liddell helps. The 6-foot-7 junior forward is averaging 20.9 points, while shooting 57.3 percent from the field and 78.2 percent from the free-throw line. The Blue Devils have made 253 free throws this season, while Liddell has attempted 243 himself.
Liddell isn’t the Maroons’ only option. Malachi Smith, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, is averaging 15.9 points, while junior guard Lawrence Brazil III is averaging 10.9 points and has made a team-leading 44 3-pointers.
“Our defense sparks our energy,” Quincy junior guard Jaeden Smith said. “We know we have to be good defensively.”
The Blue Devils have to approach this game the way they approached the Alton matchup.
They have to be aggressive.
“Coach said before the game, ‘They haven’t seen a defense like this all year. Go at them hard,'” Quincy senior forward Ben Amos said. “And we did. We knew it was going to be something new for them. We knew that was going to disrupt them.”
By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
QUINCY — By the time Blue Devil Gym finally started to clear Friday night, the Quincy High School boys basketball players had posed for enough pictures to fill a scrapbook probably 10 times over.
“I don’t even like pictures,” junior guard Jaeden Smith said.
Yet, he smiled for every single one.
Smith’s second-half hot streak coupled with a dynamite defensive effort allowed the Blue Devils to exorcise some postseason demons with a 57-36 victory over Alton in the Class 4A Quincy Regional championship.
It is the Blue Devils’ first regional title since 2009, the 40th they have won at home and the 60th in program history.
The nine-year title drought had been the longest in program history, but it’s gone now.
“This group of seniors, we deserve it,” senior point guard Aaron Shoot said. “This whole team, this coaching staff, these fans, the city of Quincy, they deserve it. I really do believe we deserve it.
“We’ve worked really hard and we’ve come really close, but we hadn’t been able to get over that hump.
“So getting over that hump for the city, for the coaches and for ourselves, it feels incredible. To do it in front of this crowd, wow, that’s amazing.”
To do it against Alton made it perfect.
The Redbirds upset the Blue Devils in the regional each of the past two seasons, including erasing a 10-point deficit in the final four minutes of the regional championship two years ago.
Alton never got that chance this time. Quincy led by 14 at the end of the third quarter and went on a 10-1 run to start the fourth quarter, squelching any hopes Alton had for a rally.
It allowed Quincy coach Andy Douglas to pull his starters with two minutes remaining in regulation and give them the opportunity to soak in their accomplishment.
“I had to hold my emotions in,” Douglas said. “We talked all week long about 8:36 p.m. was when we were going to meet in the locker room and hoist that regional plaque up. So the emotions kind of hit hard. I’m still coaching and we’re up 20 and the guys on the bench were like, ‘Hey, man, calm down. We’ve got it.’
“It was an unbelievable night.”
It means for the first time in Douglas’ four years the Blue Devils play on.
Quincy (23-4) advances to play Belleville West (27-2) in the Class 4A Pekin Sectional semifinals at 7 p.m. Tuesday. According to the Illinois High School Association website, the game is being moved to Alton High School, although Quincy plans to dispute the venue change.
Regardless of where the game is played, the Blue Devils realize they have to continue to lock in defensively to keep their postseason run alive.
The Redbirds were held 25 points below their season scoring average, shot just 31.7 percent from the field and just 8.3 percent from 3-point range.
After making 13 3-pointers in Wednesday’s semifinal victory against Chatham Glenwood, Alton went just 1 of 12 from beyond the arc. The biggest reason was the inability to get penetration against Quincy’s 1-2-2 zone defense and kick it out for open looks.
“The physicality of the game dictated that,” Alton coach Eric Smith said. “You better be a man if you were going in there tonight.”
That’s where the Blue Devils wanted to go.
Leading 19-17 after a lackluster first half in which they went 6 of 23 from the field, the Blue Devils opened the second half by scoring on their first five possessions. Four of those baskets came inside and the fifth was a Jaeden Smith 3-pointer from the left corner that forced Alton to call a timeout down 30-20.
“We didn’t want to go away from our gameplan,” said Quincy forward Ben Amos, who had one of those field goals inside and finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. “We wanted to keep going at them. We knew they were going to come at us. The main thing was they were speeding us up in the first half. We had to get back, control them and make them play our style of game.”
Jaeden Smith played a huge role in that. He made the first shot of the game — a 3-pointer from the right wing — but missed his next six shots and had just three points at halftime.
After hitting two shots in 10-3 opening blitz of the second half, he hit three more 3-pointers in succession, finishing with 19 points and going 5 of 10 from 3-point range.
“All year, we’ve had some sluggish third quarters at home,” Jaeden Smith said. “We huddled up right before the second half and said we can’t have another sluggish third quarter. We came out and did what we needed to do.”
That was picture perfect.
“It’s been a rough few years of not winning a regional, albeit against some really good competition,” Douglas said. “To bring it back home to Quincy is special.”