By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
QUINCY — The will of a senior could only be outdone by the pluck of a freshman.
The Quincy High School boys basketball team needed that to happen.
The Blue Devils’ 12-point lead in the fourth quarter Saturday night was whittled to three as Quincy Notre Dame senior point Nick Schwartz engineered a rally. He scored 10 of the Raiders’ 18 points during a stretch in which they converted on eight straight possessions and trailed just 57-54 with three minutes to play.
That didn’t faze Jeremiah Talton in the least.
The Blue Devils’ 6-foot-4 freshman swingman scored on back-to-back possessions, converting an offensive rebound and then burying a 3-pointer from the left corner that pushed the lead back to 10 points and ultimately led to a 72-59 victory at Blue Devil Gym.
“We needed a couple of buckets to get us back in rhythm,” said Talton, who led the Blue Devils with a career-high 21 points. “All summer I practiced that, get in a rhythm and shoot it. It paid off.”
The way Talton handled the big moments in an electric atmosphere was as impressive as his 5-of-6 performance from 3-point range.
“That kid is going to be something special,” Schwartz said. “I’m not going to say that was their biggest game of the year, but it was their biggest atmosphere and one of the biggest stages of their season. Stepping up to make those shots, that says a lot for him as a freshman.”
It might end up being the Blue Devils’ biggest game because they finally handled a tight late-game situation with confidence. All of their six losses have been by six points or less, including Friday night’s 55-52 setback against Rock Island, and they were 0-5 at home this season.
“Right now, any win is important,” QHS senior guard Jirehl Brock said. “We just have to find that identity and find how to win.”
QND coach Kevin Meyer believes the Raiders may have found their identity, too, despite the loss.
“They never laid down,” Meyer said. “It would have been easy in that environment and everything going on around you. You’ve got Jirehl playing about the rim and Jeremiah banging home threes. It would have been easy to wilt under that. Our guys never did.”
It teetered on happening a couple of times.
Leading 33-27 at halftime, the Blue Devils (2-6) opened the third quarter by scoring on four of their first five possessions and pulling ahead 43-31. However, the Raiders (5-4) dug in defensively and limited the Blue Devils to three points over the final 5:50 of the quarter and trailed just 44-36.
“We dug ourselves a hole,” Schwartz said. “But we battled. We fought ourselves back into the game.”
What the Raiders couldn’t do was stop the Blue Devils from scoring.
QHS exploded for 26 points in the fourth quarter, scoring on all but three possessions. The Blue Devils committed just five turnovers in the game and shot 47.1 percent from the field and 47.8 from 3-point range.
“We played solid,” Brock said. “One thing we did tonight that we didn’t do in the other close games is we protected the ball pretty well.”
They had a freshman enjoy a coming-of-age moment.
“As soon as I got on the court and started hitting, I was all right,” said Talton, who went 4 of 4 from 3-point range as part of a 16-point first half. “I could tell from the start of the game I was going to be on tonight. I started shooting, and I was hitting.”
His confidence was infectious.
“Even in practice, we will have shooting competitions from the free-throw line and he doesn’t miss,” Brock said. “He has the most confidence out of any freshman I have ever seen. He steps up to the plate and doesn’t shy away from anything.”
He shied away from nothing Saturday night.
“I look at him, and he looks like he’s a junior out there,” QHS coach Andy Douglas said. “He’s got that confidence. Any time the ball goes out of his hands, you think the shot is going in.”
The Blue Devils would have taken that from anyone, just as long as they shed their late-game woes and continued their dominance of this series. QHS has won four straight and five of the last six meetings in the crosstown showdown.
“The amount of energy that was in the gym tonight and the emotion that goes into this, it was huge for us,” Douglas said. “The biggest thing was being able to finish a game.”
Quincy High School 72, Quincy Notre Dame 59