By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
QUINCY — Jaeden Smith passed up a sure thing for a wow thing.
It didn’t work quite like he planned.
So the next time the junior guard found himself alone on a breakaway, Smith didn’t waste his chance to score and made certain the Quincy High School boys basketball team came away with a victory.
Smith turned a steal into a layup a minute into the fourth quarter Friday night, ending a five-minute scoring drought and re-energizing the defense as the Blue Devils dispatched United Township 61-48 in Western Big Six Conference action at Blue Devil Gym.
“Coach got on me about the pass to Jirehl (Brock) and told me I should have just finished it,” said Smith, who had 11 points and five steals. “We couldn’t get a stop on defense and needed to get points on the board to pick up our energy. I just did it that time, got the steal, got the points and got our team energized.”
He tried to do that midway through the third quarter, but the move backfired.
The Blue Devils (12-3, 3-1 WB6) led 45-32 when Smith snared a pass near midcourt and went in for an uncontested layup. Instead of taking the points, he tossed the ball off the backboard for Brock, who was trailing the play, to catch and throw down a two-handed dunk.
Brock’s dunk attempt hit off the back of the iron and caromed nearly to midcourt. He also was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, and the subsequent free throw made by the Panthers’ Shamar Grant kickstarted an 8-0 run that pulled United Township within 45-40 less than 30 seconds into the fourth quarter.
“That play, we need to see the ball go through the rim,” Quincy coach Andy Douglas said. “When you’re missing shot after shot after shot, but you’re getting good looks, you just need to see the ball go in the basket. We made the flashy play over the smart one.”
The Blue Devils went eight straight possessions without scoring after that.
“That missed dunk turned things around, and we got that little run,” the Panthers’ Jean Luc Wilson said. “If we could have made one or two more shots in that quarter, we would have won this game. We will sure use this as a momentum builder for our team. We proved we can compete with a great team on their court.”
Wilson, who had a game-high 16 points, scored from the high post immediately after Smith’s layup, making the score 47-42. The Blue Devils responded by scoring the next six points.
United Township (7-9, 0-4 WB6) committed four of its 21 turnovers in the fourth quarter, missed six of its final nine shots and had one player other than Wilson make a field goal in the final 11 minutes.
“When they started coming back, it was because we lacked energy,” said QHS point guard Aaron Shoot, who finished with 13 points, six assists and five steals. “Once we picked up the energy, we kind of calmed down and played tough defense.”
It was reminiscent of the way the Blue Devils played in the first half.
Coming off a two-week break — they hadn’t played since beating Edwardsville on Dec. 30 in the Collinsville Prairie Farms Holiday Classic — the Blue Devils built a 21-10 lead by scoring on nine consecutive possessions in the first quarter. They finished the second quarter by scoring on six of the final nine possessions and led 37-24 at the break.
Quincy went 11 of 14 from the field inside the 3-point stripe in the first half but just 4 of 15 from 3-point range.
That’s why the Blue Devils started the second half with a concerted effort to get the ball inside. They made their first four shots in the paint, but then missed 11 straight shots.
“We have confidence in our guys,” Shoot said. “They missed a few shots, but I kept telling them, ‘Keep shooting it. Keep shooting it.’ Those were great shots. Those are shots we look for.”
They finally fell in the fourth quarter in order to put away a victory in the Blue Devils’ first game at home since Dec. 9.
“It was really good,” Shoot said. “It had been a long time.”