By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
When Quincy High School boys basketball coach Sean Taylor learned how many turnovers his team committed Wednesday night, he chuckled.
“It’s funny,” Taylor said. “That’s the number we wanted.”
It might not have been realistic, though, to think Quincy would turn the ball over only 12 times against Alton. After all, the Blue Devils committed 25 turnovers in a January loss to the Redbirds.
“We said if we could have 12 or fewer and they are aggressive turnovers, we could live with that,” Taylor said. “Because I don’t think you can play perfect against a team as quick as they are.”
Quincy didn’t play perfect, but it came awfully close.
The third-seeded Blue Devils led by just one point with five minutes to play in the Class 4A Quincy Regional semifinal at Blue Devil Gym before outscoring the second-seeded Redbirds 20-5 to close out a 64-48 upset.
“I pulled the guys in and said, ‘It’s not just us. It’s this entire place that’s into this,'” Quincy senior forward Connor Mellon said. “We could all feel the floor vibrate from the cheering.”
It could be equally electric Friday night.
Quincy (15-11) will face top-seeded Edwardsville (26-2) in the regional championship. The Tigers eliminated the Blue Devils in the regional championship two years ago, but Quincy has not lost a postseason game at home since 1977 and won 39 straight regional games at Blue Devil Gym.
“I do think there is a belief when you put on that jersey, you’re representing a great program and you owe it to the program to play hard,” Taylor said. “These guys have really bought into that.”
The Blue Devils also bought into the idea they had to be relentless, especially in the fourth quarter.
Quincy led 23-21 at halftime and never trailed throughout the third quarter, but it couldn’t gain any separation. The biggest lead was 40-36 on the heels of Zach Burry’s 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in the third quarter, but Alton (22-6) closed to 44-43 when D’tae McMurray hit a 3-pointer from the corer with 5:50 to play.
“Coach said, ‘You can’t hold back. You have to keep going. You have to keep putting it on them, or they will come back on you,’ ” Burry said.
So that’s what the Blue Devils did.
Barnell Thomas, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, scored five straight points to push the lead to 49-43 and force the Redbirds to start chasing. That opened the floor for point guard Lincoln Elbe to attack the lane and kick out to Burry and Alex Shoot, who combined to hit three straight 3-pointers that extended the lead to 58-47 with 1:38 to play. Elbe finished with six assists.
“We knew they were going to come after us, so we had to attack them,” Elbe said. “Coach stressed we had to be strong.”
It’s all the Blue Devils had heard.
“The thing we said for the last four days was we don’t want to play on our heels,” Taylor said. “You can’t play on your heels against quickness. You have to attack it. You’re going to make some mistakes, but you’re making them going to the basket. That was key.”
So was a strong start.
Mellon scored the Blue Devils’ first three baskets, and all eight of their first-half field goals came inside 5 feet. Mellon went 7 of 9 from the field and finished with 19 points.
“The last time we played them, we missed a lot of layups and easy ones,” Burry, who had a game-high 20 points, said. “So getting those, it gives us all the confidence to shoot the ball and drive it.”
Alton couldn’t do that.
Driving lanes were taken away by Quincy’s 1-2-2 zone, which forced Alton to shoot just 36.3 percent from the field. Redbirds point guard Michael Williams-Bey, who came in averaging 14 points per game, was limited to just seven.
“We slowed up their penetration,” Burry said. “They have a couple good shooters, but not great. So we had to contain them and get to them.”
It meant playing every possession until the end.
“For the seniors, it was kind of like, ‘Give it all for your last moment,’ ” Mellon said. “We put it all on the line tonight. We took every possession very seriously.”