By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
The sophomore guard is playing like a seasoned veteran, and it’s benefitting the Quincy High School boys basketball team in a significant way.
Saturday night, Smith made three 3-pointers in a five-possession span of the second quarter, turning a three-point deficit into a three-point lead and helping the Blue Devils pick up a 57-48 victory at Blue Devil Gym. It is the Blue Devils’ 27th straight home victory and the third straight game Smith has scored in double digits as he finished with 19 points.
“My teammates always keep me going,” Smith said. “They’re always like, ‘Keep shooting’ when I’m in a slump. I was in a slump at the beginning of the season, but I’m feeling great now because all my teammates pick me up every game.”
Jacksonville made two of its first three 3-point attempts and bolted to an 8-2 lead, but Parker Bland buried a 14-footer along right baseline and Smith knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing to change the tide. Smith’s barrage in the second quarter gave Quincy all the momentum.
But Quincy coach Andy Douglas didn’t want the game to evolv into a 3-point shooting contest.
“That’s something we’re good at,” Douglas said. “But we’re great at defense.”
Smith had a hand in helping the Blue Devils get defensive. The Crimsons went 6 of 24 from the field in the second half and 3 of 16 from 3-point range as the Blue Devils pushed the lead to as many as 11 points in the third quarter.
After Jacksonville trimmed the lead to four, Smith buried another 3-pointer to hold the Crimsons at bay.
“He was great again tonight,” Douglas said. “Offensively, he was great for us. Defensively, he did a great job of running at guys. You’re seeing the confidence build game-by-game for a lot of guys, but it really sticks out with him.”
A five-point possession midway through the second quarter played a major role in Quincy keeping the lead.
Off a missed running jumper by Bland, Jacksonville forward Brandon McCombs cleared the defensive rebound. However, Quincy’s Garrett Gadeke reached in and forced a jump ball call. McCombs, the 6-foot-7 senior who has signed to play at NCAA Division II Lewis University, was hit with a technical foul for questioning the call. Crimsons coach Cliff Cameron went onto the floor to argue the cal and was slapped with a technical foul as well.
Quincy guard Aaron Shoot made 3 of 4 free throws, and the Blue Devils finished the possession with Gadeke’s layin to take a 32-25 lead.
The Blue Devils’ lead never dipped below five points again.
Coming off Friday night’s hard-fought 41-38 victory over United Township that gave the Blue Devils a chance at a Western Big Six Conference championship, there was a legitimate concern they might not have the legs to play the style of defense they want.
That might have been the case for better than a quarter Saturday night, but Quincy refused to let fatigue bother it.
“These games are huge to build that toughness you’re going to need when we go into postseason play,” Douglas said. “We needed this for a lot of reasons. Regional seeds come out this week, and it gives us a chance to be up at the top. We’ll see where we fall, but we’ve done our job. We’ve continued to win at home and protect our house. It was a big weekend for us.”
At 18-4, the Blue Devils have a chance for one of the top four seeds in one of the two sub-sectionals of the Class 4A Ottawa Sectional. Belleville East and Granite City will be the regional hosts, with Edwardsville and East St. Louis expected to be the top seeds at those regionals.
The Illinois High School Association will release the seeds Thursday.