By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
QUINCY — Parker Bland called them wolverine claw marks.
The scratches on the back on his left arm and shoulder — along with a sore left knee and right hip — were the remnants of how the Washington boys basketball team tested Quincy High School’s physical toughness, mental resolve and trust in each other Wednesday night.
The Blue Devils had no trouble passing what is essentially a mid-term exam.
Quincy saw a 13-point lead whittled to five roughly two minutes into the fourth quarter, but Bland’s layup in transition calmed everyone’s nerves as the Blue Devils closed out a 52-40 victory at Blue Devil Gym with an 11-4 run.
“That’s when our mental toughness comes into play,” said Bland, who led Quincy with 18 points and six rebounds. “We have to know we’re still playing a game. There’s still time to play, so we have to put it all together.”
The Blue Devils have done that so far, finishing the first half of the schedule with back-to-back victories and posting a 9-1 pre-Christmas record. It allows them to savor the next six days before heading to the Collinsville Prairie Farms Holiday Classic.
“Oh, we do get to enjoy it,” QHS senior forward Deven Smith said. “But we’re going to come back in here and we’re going to get after it and get ready for Collinsville. We know it’s important.”
Handling in-your-face pressure is just as important.
The Panthers (5-2) committed eight first-quarter turnovers, made just one field goal in the game’s first 9 minutes, 36 seconds and trailed 16-3 before point guard Devin Whitelow scored off a drive along the left baseline. Washington cut the deficit to eight points by halftime and continued chiseling away in the second half.
When Adrian Ware hit his third 3-pointer of the second half with 6:24 to play, the Panthers were within 41-36.
And at that point, the Blue Devils had gone nearly four minutes without a field goal.
“That team was really good defensively,” QHS junior point guard Aaron Shoot said. “I think everyone in the gym could see it. They were all over us the entire game, full-court pressure the entire game.”
Had Quincy let it, the pressure could have turned the tide.
Instead, the Blue Devils refused to let the Panthers force the issue when it mattered most.
After Washington forced a turnover, giving it an opportunity to make it a one-possession game, Ware missed a 3-pointer from deep on the right wing and Quincy’s Jaeden Smith — the shortest player on the floor at the time — grabbed the long rebound. He spun and started a fastbreak that ended with Bland’s momentum-killing layup.
“A huge sigh,” QHS coach Andy Douglas said. “It was a sigh of relief at that point.”
The Blue Devils had weathered the storm.
“Those were the exact words that came out of Coach’s mouth when he called the timeout,” said Shoot, who finished with 13 points, five steals and three assists. “We knew they were going to come out hot. We knew they were going to come out in our face. They made a little bit of a run, but we handled it well.”
Following Bland’s bucket, Shoot stripped Ware for one of Panthers’ 18 turnovers, and Bland converted a three-point play at the other end off a high post feed from Garrett Gadeke to push the advantage to double digits.
Still, it wasn’t as defining as Jaeden Smith’s rebound and outlet pass for the critical basket.
“It was a calming play for the crowd,” Bland said. “It kind of calmed us, too.”