By Matt Schuckman Herald-WhigPosted: Feb. 2, 2019 10:45 pm Updated: Feb. 2, 2019 11:55 pm
QUINCY — The atmosphere Saturday night felt as lackluster as the play.
Jaeden Smith did what was necessary to change that.
With the Quincy High School boys basketball team’s lead over Miller Career Academy bouncing between 11 and 15 points for most the third quarter, the Blue Devils couldn’t put a run together again to enliven the Blue Devil Gym faithful or gain the separation necessary to put everyone at ease.
“It felt like there wasn’t anything going on,” Smith said. “But we have to find a way to create our energy and just get it done.”
Smith decided to go on the attack.
He drew fouls on three separate drives to the basket, making all six free throws he earned, and the senior guard scored 13 straight points to push the Blue Devils advantage to 19 points with six minutes to play.
That was enough of a cushion to allow them to salt away a 71-51 victory and reach the .500 mark for the first time this season.
“I feel super comfortable taking it and dishing it off or getting fouled or finishing at the rim,” said Smith, who made nine of 10 free throws, scored a game-high 24 points and had four assists. “Whatever it takes when we need something good to happen. I felt like we responded and did that when we needed a push.”
It led to the Blue Devils’ first weekend sweep of the season, albeit in somewhat ugly fashion.
“We had two of them this weekend that were kind of ugly,” Smith said, referencing Friday night’s 60-48 victory over Rock Island Alleman. “We need to find a way to clean up our play better, but we found a way to clean it up in the end.”
Getting assistance from the bench helps.
Quincy (10-10) led by five points early in the second quarter when junior guard Payton Nicholson came off the bench and put together his best four-minute stretch of the season. His two steals, two assists, two rebounds and a field goal helped extend the lead to as many as 18 points before settling for a 13-point edge at halftime.
“I just come in and try to do my best defensively,” Nicholson said. “With Jirehl (Brock) normally at the point (on the 1-2-2 zone), I know when I come and in and take over at the point, I have to keep the energy up and cause some havoc.”
That effort came on the heels of a steal and three rebounds in a handful of minutes against Alleman.
“He’s gaining confidence and earning that playing time,” said Quincy coach Andy Douglas, who was pleased with the 11 points, 12 rebounds and three assists his bench provided. “He deserves to be out there. He’s practicing better and had better energy. We need it. We need a spark, and Payton’s providing it.”
He fits in well with an aggressive defense that forced 20 turnovers against Miller Academy, leading directly to 30 points.
“He’s super long and gets a ton deflections,” Smith said of Nicholson. “That lifts our energy a lot. I thought our bench came to play today.”
It makes Quincy the most complete it has been all season. The Blue Devils have won six straight games at home, three straight overall and have erased the 0-5 start to the season by getting back to level ground.
“We’re playing more as a team, and we’re getting more comfortable with each other and trusting each other,” Nicholson said. “Now we’re just going to keep getting better.”
Quincy 71, Miller Career Academy 51