By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
Where and when the plan was hatched is inconsequential at this point.
All that mattered to Aaron Shoot and Ben Amos was finding the chance to execute it.
Prior to the fourth quarter Saturday night, there hadn’t been a moment set up for a rim-rattling dunk. Yet, in the closing minutes against Quincy Notre Dame, in front of a packed house at the Pit, it nearly happened.
With the Quincy High School boys basketball team leading by six, Shoot drove hard to the lane and had a chance to go at the rim with Amos trailing him from the high post. Shoot was fouled and never had the opportunity to toss an alley-oop off the backboard.
“He was looking at me and was like, ‘That was the one. Throw that,'” Shoot said.
Two possessions later, Shoot didn’t waste a second chance.
“As soon as I got the steal, I turned and looked at him,” Shoot said. “I didn’t look back again. I just took off, threw it off the glass and counted on him being there.”
Amos didn’t disappoint. Catching the ball with both hands, he hammered down a two-handed dunk that was exclamation point on the Blue Devils’ 58-46 victory, their third straight in the crosstown rivalry.
Moreso, it was the exclamation point on Amos’ arrival into the big time.
The 6-foot-5 senior forward has been efficient and effective all season as the Blue Devils’ primary — often only — big man. He came into the game averaging 11.4 points after a 17-point effort last Friday in the victory at Rock Island and was shooting 54.2 percent from the field.
Yet, he was faced with the task of taking on QND’s big men — 6-8 Jase Wallingford and 6-4, 290-pound Jonny Bottorff. Wallingford was coming off a career-high 19-point performance against Palmyra and Bottorff was considered the immovable force.
Wallingford and Bottorff combined for eight points and four rebounds and attempted just four field goals. Meanwhile, Amos made the first basket of the game on a jumper in the middle of the lane, scored the last one with the dunk and finished with 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field to go along with eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
He made it abundantly clear he can hold his own.
“One-hundred percent, he was the best big man on the floor,” Shoot said. “That’s no disrespect to the school across town. They have incredible big guys, too, and they all played well. I just think he won the battle. I have confidence in our players, and I think he was the best player on the floor.
“That shows his mental toughness and how far he’s come.”
A year ago, Amos was the first player off the QHS bench when the season began and started the final game during the QHS Thanksgiving Tournament. However, by the time the QND game rolled around, his minutes had dwindled. He finished the season averaging 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds.
It left a lingering doubt how Amos would handle the workload this season.
He’s erased all those doubts.
“He’s getting better and better every single game and you can see that,” Shoot said. “He’s in another zone right now. He’s really locked in.”
That shows up in the boxscore.
What doesn’t is his commanding presence in the lane and along the baseline defensively.
“You can look at 18 points and be wowed by that,” QHS coach Andy Douglas said. “What I’m wowed by is his defense. He had the best block of the night, which ended up being a foul, but you saw there he wasn’t going to let it be easy on anyone inside.”
Douglas was referencing the foul called on Amos as he tried to block Wallingford’s shot late in the third quarter.
Amos’ reaction showed he felt he blocked the shot cleanly, but instead of getting irate with the call, he made quick amends. Wallingford missed both free throws, and Amos scored from the block on the ensuing possession. It was part of an 11-1 run that gave the Blue Devils control.
“He kept his emotions in check,” Douglas said. “For the most part, our guys did a good job of that. It’s an emotional environment. It’s an emotional weekend. We did a decent job of holding things in check, and that comes back to seniors showing their leadership.”
By doing so, it opened up the opportunity to have a little fun.
Shoot and Amos had the perfect plan in place for such an occasion.