‘I can fully say I had a blast out there’: Despite loss, Raiders’ effort changes team’s entire vibe

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Quincy Notre Dame's Jackson Stratton puts up a free-throw attempt during the second half of Saturday's game against Quincy High School at Blue Devil Gym. | Matt Schuckman photo

QUINCY — For one night at least, and probably a couple of days to follow, the angst was eased.

No one associated with the Quincy Notre Dame boys basketball program is going to accept losing, not even to a state-ranked Class 4A squad on its home floor, but the positive vibes felt after Saturday night’s 60-43 loss to Quincy High School hadn’t existed in a while.

“You could tell with the guys in the locker room,” said senior point guard Jake Hoyt, who led QND with 14 points. “That was so much more fun to play. It was much better basketball than what we’ve been playing. It’s a good step for us. Those guys are really good and they’re going to be hard to beat on their home floor. But we showed some pride in what we do and did what we could.”

And instead of heading to late-night solo shootarounds or settling in for some head-scratching film study, the Raiders left Blue Devil Gym ready to grab a late dinner or socialize with friends and family.

They were far more determined than they were deterred.

“It was really fun playing tonight,” QND senior guard Jackson Stratton said. “I can fully say I had a blast out there.”

That echoed throughout the locker room.

“I asked them, ‘Take the final score away and did you like your effort?’” QND coach Kevin Meyer said. “They were all hands on deck with, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll play like that again.’ We just have to continue that. I don’t know if you bottle it, but dang, I hope we get back in The Pit on Tuesday night and play like that.”

The Raiders (4-4) play their final pre-Christmas game Tuesday against Monmouth-Roseville, hoping to engineer some momentum before heading to the State Farm Holiday Classic.

Any kind of momentum seemed a distant dream following punch-in-the-gut losses at Palmyra and to Camp Point Central in the four days preceding the crosstown showdown. The Raiders lost by 21 points to Palmyra and 19 to Central, managing to score just 13 points in the second half of each game.

It made the Raiders question their identity.

The hard-nosed, share-the-ball, be-tenacious style they want to play came back into focus Saturday night when they led the Blue Devils for a majority of the first 13½ minutes.

“We need to keep growing and building on this and we’ll be good,” said Stratton, who finished with 11 points. “It starts with playing defense hard and getting into our offense. It’s going to take a little bit to get comfortable because we’ve had all these changes. We just have to peak at the right time.”

That will be when the postseason arrives, but in the two months until then, QND cannot afford to take any steps backward.

“The thing being echoed through the coaches and the team was, sure, there was progress made, but you have to continue it now,” Meyer said. “You have to take it and bring it Tuesday, bring it at State Farm (Holiday Classic). It can’t be, ‘Oh, it was the Devils.’ We should be up for this game every time, but we should be up for every game.”

There’s a common belief the Raiders will be.

“This is a good step for us,” Hoyt said. “We have to keep building from this night.”

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