By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
MOLINE, Ill. — Experience makes quite a difference.
The Quincy High School boys basketball team is blessed with it. Moline will eventually gain it.
The disparity showed down the stretch on Friday night.
Quincy senior forward Garrett Gadeke made two free throws with 12.5 seconds remaining in regulation, and Moline’s youthful squad missed its final six 3-point attempts as the Blue Devils survived a trip to Wharton Field House with a 47-42 Western Big Six Conference victory.
“They’re a young group. We’re a veteran group,” Gadeke said. “We have a lot of players who have played a lot. We have seniors who step up in big leadership roles, and we have a good mix of young guys who stepped up and made plays.
“We don’t get nervous because we have veteran guys who can calm the young guys down and have them make good plays down the stretch.”
It would have been easy for the Blue Devils (13-3, 4-1 WB6) to crack.
Trailing by 10 points at the start of the fourth quarter, Moline knocked down three consecutive 3-pointers, flustered Quincy with full-court pressure and pulled within 39-35 with 4:34 to go by scoring on six straight possessions.
The Maroons (12-7, 2-3 WB6) eventually whittled the deficit to 43-41 with 1:33 to go when Deonte Billups took a defensive rebound coast-to-coast for a layup.
“We have kids who will never quit,” Moline coach Sean Taylor said. “They found a way to make it game. We just have to try to make a couple more plays and not put ourselves in this position where we get down 10 or 12.”
At that point, Quincy’s experience showed.
First, senior forward Parker Bland made it a two-possession game when he slipped past a defender and made a left-handed layup. Bland and Gadeke cleared the defensive glass on three straight possessions, and Gadeke calmly finished the Maroons with two clutch free throws.
That’s expected of an 82-percent free-throw shooter, even though he missed two from the charity stripe earlier in the fourth quarter.
“The two that I missed, the first one was like, ‘Yep, that’s in.’ And then it was long,” said Gadeke, who led the Blue Devils with 14 points and nine rebounds. “The second one I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I short-armed it. It didn’t faze me.
“You can tell right away whether it is going in or not. On both of those last two, it was like, ‘Over. Game over.'”
It might not have come to that if the Blue Devils hadn’t struggled offensively early.
The Maroons led for the first 3:50 of the game as the Blue Devils committed three turnovers on their first five possessions. Quincy didn’t score until Bland’s layin off a Jaeden Smith assist.
The second quarter had a similar start. Quincy missed its first three shots and watched Moline tie the game at 7 with 4:40 to go in the first half.
“We knew on the defensive side we were also stopping them from scoring,” said QHS sophomore guard Jirehl Brock, who had 10 points and three steals. “As long as we were stopping them, we know the ball will go down for us. We know we will get that rhythm and shots will start to fall.”
That eventually happened.
The Blue Devils went on a 12-0 run in the second quarter and took a 19-10 lead into halftime. They also scored on six of their final seven possessions of the third quarter to push a four-point lead back to a 10-point advantage.
It was too much for the Maroons to overcome. They just 30.4 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from 3-point range, missing their first nine attempts.
“We had some good shots, but Quincy’s defense is really long and really aggressive,” Taylor said. “Brock plays great at that point. He was the key for them.”
So was a simple mindset that never escaped the Blue Devils.
“Stay calm,” Gadeke said.
That’s experience showing.