By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
QUINCY — After the United Township boys basketball team burned its final timeout, Jirehl Brock pulled his jersey over his head in sheer disgust as he headed to the huddle.
Quincy High School coach Andy Douglas yanked it back down.
“I said, ‘Look, man, it’s not over,'” Douglas said. “I told him to get it back on the defensive end. He was frustrated and rightfully so, but he was able to clear his mind once he took the floor and concentrate on what he had to do.”
The sophomore guard missed the front end of a 1-and-1 situation with 23.6 seconds remaining in regulation Friday night and Quincy clinging to a 39-38 lead. His miss gave United Township a chance to set up a play for a potential game-winning basket that would wrap up the Western Big Six Conference championship.
Then he stole it all away.
Brock forced UT’s Tray Buchanan to make an ill-advised jump pass and snatched the ball, immediately handing it teammate Aaron Shoot before the Panthers could foul him again. Shoot was fouled with 4.4 seconds remaining and made both free throws to secure a 41-38 victory at Blue Devil Gym.
“I thought he was going to shoot it,” Brock said. “When he jumped up in the air, I thought he was going to shoot it, and it would have been almost uncontested. I’ve always been taught not to jump and make a pass.
“He got in a bind and couldn’t pass it anywhere. It just went straight to me.”
It moved the Blue Devils straight into title contention as well.
Quincy (17-4, 6-2 WB6) trails United Township (22-5, 7-2 WB6) by a half-game with two games still to play. The Blue Devils travel to Galesburg next Friday and close the regular season by playing host to Moline.
Win both, and the Blue Devils guarantee themselves a share of their league-record 22nd championship.
“The other teams are going to be coming for us,” said senior forward Garrett Gadeke, who led the Blue Devils with 15 points and seven rebounds. “Last year, Galesburg had a chance to win it outright and lost on the last weekend. We can’t allow that to happen. We have to finish the job.”
They did that Friday night with stout defense.
After Buchanan’s short jumper have the Panthers a 36-35 lead with 4:34 to go, UT committed three consecutive turnovers and managed just one field goal the rest of the game. Izaya Sims’ jumper from the block pushed the Panthers ahead 38-36 with 2:10 to go.
However, just 16 seconds later, Brock was left wide open on the left wing and knocked down a 3-pointer that gave the Blue Devils the lead for good.
“It’s a make-or-miss game,” UT coach Ryan Webber said. “Both teams competed hard. We got the lead and rolled the dice. We went triangle-and-two, and Brock made a shot.”
The Panthers worked nearly a minute off the clock before using a timeout to set up a play. The ball ended up with Buchanan, but he missed a jumper that Gadeke rebounded. Brock was fouled 10 seconds later, but his free throw was off the mark.
The Blue Devils weren’t going to let Brock dwell on it.
“I sat next to him in the huddle and told him to keep his head, keep his confidence and get it back on defense,” Gadeke said. “He makes his money on the defensive side of the ball. There is not a tougher point man on a zone in the Western Big Six than Jirehl. He played incredibly well down the stretch.”
Everyone expected Buchanan, the WB6’s leading scorer who had six of his game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter, to get the ball. Douglas told Brock to not let him loose.
“We had to be glued to him,” Douglas said, noting Buchanan made three 3-pointers in the first half and four overall. “That was in the scouting report from the start, and we didn’t execute that as well as we needed to in the first half. We still have to be disciplined enough to stick to the shooter.
“So in that situation, I told them to stick to him. If anyone else steps up and makes a three, it’s on me. It’s not going to be him. Jirehl stuck with him and got him in an uncomfortable position.”
Now, Quincy is in the favorable position of controlling its own destiny.
“All we wanted to do was give ourselves a chance, and we did that,” Douglas said. “I don’t have to tell them anything. They were already saying, ‘Galesburg, Galesburg.’ We have a tough game in Galesburg on the road and then a Moline team that is playing like one of the best teams in the conference right now.
“It’s not going to be an easy feat, but at least we give ourselves a chance.”