‘I think it came down to toughness’: Blue Devils’ strong second half carries them to WB6 crown

QHS boys

Quincy High School senior Tyler Sprick, left, and junior Keshaun Thomas helped the Blue Devils beat Rock Island 48-46 Thursday night in Rock Island, Ill., to capture the Western Big 6 Conference championship. | Muddy River Sports file photo

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Nobody can say Quincy High School didn’t earn the 2023-24 Western Big 6 Conference boys basketball championship.

The state’s Class 4A fifth-ranked Blue Devils beat Rock Island for the second time in three days on Thursday evening, using a similar script to Tuesday’s home victory.

Getting enough offense at the right times and coming up with a defensive plan that made it tough on the Rocks, Quincy battled back from an early deficit to secure a 58-46 winner-take-all victory at the Rock Garden to deny the hosts a shot at the title.

“It’s a tough conference with Moline playing the way they are and Rock Island playing the way they are and Sterling the way it did,” said QHS coach Andy Douglas, whose club held Rocky under 50 points in both wins this week. “We put ourselves in a tough position to have to win these last two games.

“To walk away with the conference in this league is an accomplishment. I’m proud of the effort the guys had to walk out of Rock Island with the title.”

The victory moved the Blue Devils to 28-3 ahead of next week’s Class 4A Pekin Sectional Sub-Section B and finished the outright WB6 title with a 12-2 mark.

Rock Island (23-8) finished 11-3 in the league race and tied for second with last season’s champ Moline.

The Blue Devils earned that victory with a fantastic finish, outscoring the Rocks 39-22 in the final 16 minutes as they erased a 24-19 halftime deficit.

“I think it came down to toughness,” said Douglas, whose club last won a WB6 title in the 2021-22 season and has won 25 WB6 crowns in program history.

It also came down to a good start in the third quarter.

QHS scored the first nine points of the second half to erase that five-point halftime deficit and take a lead they never lost. In that run, Quincy got buckets in the paint from Camden Brown, Keshaun Thomas and Tyler Sprick, as well as a Brown 3-pointer.

The Rocks finally got on the board with a KJ Lamonte three-point play and a pair of Dezmund Jackson free throws, but Quincy answered with a Ralph Wires bucket and a Bradley Longcor III triple for a 33-29 lead.

By hitting 8 of 12 shots in that frame, the visitors took a 38-33 lead into the fourth quarter.

“I thought we hit some stretches where we didn’t make the plays we needed to make,” Rock Island coach Marc Polite said. “When you’re playing at this level — high-level basketball — your margin for error is so small.”

With the Blue Devils hitting 8 of 16 3-pointers in the contest and shooting 14 of 20 from the field in the second half, Rocky’s margins were even slimmer. Especially with the Devils’ defense slowing the Rocky offense.

“Our defense starts our offense and it’s hard to get going when you’re taking the ball out of the basket,” said Polite, whose club was just 4 of 13 on 3-pointers and 11 of 29 from the field in the first three quarters before making 7 of 9 fourth-quarter shots.

Even then, the Rocks had trouble cutting into the gap. Trailing 41-33 early in the final stanza, Lamonte (11 points) hit a bucket and Larry Olivier connected on his third triple of the game to pull Rocky within 41-38 as the hosts gained a bit of momentum from the home crowd with 6:26 left in regulation.

But Brown scored on another drive as Quincy continued to push the tempo and get to the rim. The teams traded buckets with Rocky’s Dezmund Jackson hitting a triple at the 3:16 mark that pulled the Rocks within 48-45.

Longcor, though, again answered, hitting his fourth and final 3-pointer of the game with 2:52 left that gave the Blue Devils a 51-45 lead. He finished with a game-high 20 points.

His shot started a closing 7-1 Quincy run that put away the contest as Rocky went the final 3:16 of the game without a field goal.

It sent the six Quincy seniors — Wires, Brown, Sprick, Seth Rupert, Ty Douglas and Isiah Talton — off as Big 6 champs.

“Those seniors, they were great,” Andy Douglas of his three senior starters. “It was a challenging week and something that we’re not used to playing two times in three days.

“I thought they attacked the one practice that we had and got ready for tonight’s game really well.”

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