School of Hard knocks: Maroons guard makes critical plays to hand Blue Devils first loss

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Moline guard Brock Harding, right, ties to fight off pressure from Quincy High School guard Ralph Wires during Friday's Western Big 6 Conference game at Wharton Field House in Moline, Ill. | Matt Schuckman photo

MOLINE, Ill. — Not even the most foolhearted Quincy High School boys basketball fan was gullible enough to believe Brock Harding wouldn’t eventually put his stamp on Friday night’s Western Big 6 Conference showdown.

“We knew he had only two points at halftime,” Quincy junior swingman Camden Brown said. “You know he’s going to score more than that. He wants to score.”

Harding does so much more than score.

With second-ranked Moline leading ninth-ranked Quincy by four points and time dwindling at the end of the third quarter, the Maroons senior point guard drove to the middle of the lane and drained a floating jumper over the arms of the Blue Devils’ Tyler Sprick with four seconds left.

Instead of circling back defensively, Harding lurked near the baseline, stepped in front of Quincy’s inbounds pass and dished to teammate Grant Welch running toward the basket for a layin at the buzzer.

In a blink, the Maroons’ advantage doubled and it catapulted them to a 56-44 victory at Wharton Field House and sole possession of first place in the WB6 heading into the holiday hiatus. WB6 play doesn’t resume until January 6.

“It reminded me of the Boston-Detroit series when (Larry) Bird stole the ball from Isiah (Thomas) and threw it to DJ (Dennis Johnson),” Moline coach Sean Taylor said referencing the final play in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals. “Of course, I’m a Celtics fan.

“It gave us the momentum and had to be a little deflating for them to give up a bucket at the end of the quarter.”

The Maroons (7-1, 4-0 WB6) experienced that feeling one quarter earlier.

After Sprick tied the game at 21 with 55 seconds remaining in the first half, the Maroons turned the ball over before attempting a shot as they held for the final possession. That enabled Quincy to get the ball to Sprick, who drove from the left wing and made a left-handed scoop shot as the buzzer sounded for a 23-21 lead.

The Blue Devils (8-1, 3-1 WB6) seemingly had all the momentum they needed.

“When you watch the first half, we can compete with those guys,” said Sprick, who finished with nine ppints. “When you watch the second half, we have to do a better job of sticking together.”

A seven-point run to open the second half with Harding scoring the first five points gave the Maroons a lead they never surrendered.

“When another team goes on a run, we can’t just sit down,” said Brown, who led the Blue Devils with 12 points. “We have to keep playing. We have to fight through those blows.”

Moline didn’t make that easy, holding the Blue Devils scoreless on their first five possessions of the second half. Brown broke the drought with a 3-pointer with 4:50 to play just before another pivotal turning point.

After Quincy forced a Moline turnover, Sprick looked to score again on a drive from the left side, but 6-foot-10 Moline forward Owen Freeman blocked the shot that had the QHS bench and its throng of fans clamoring for a goaltending call that never came.

Instead, Harding scored a layup in transition to make it a two-possession game again.

Harding finished with a game-high 19 points, 17 coming in the second half. Freeman had 17 points and four blocked shots.

“Keep on guarding,” Taylor said of his halftime message. “I thought we did a really good job of guarding in the first half. We needed to be a little more aggressive offensively. We were fortunate to get off to a quick start and it really set the tone.”

The Blue Devils scored just seven points in the third quarter and made just two field goals the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. Ralph Wires’ three-point play with 4:32 to play in regulation pulled Quincy within 44-36, but the Blue Devils missed their next six shots and were down 16 points at that juncture.

“We learned we have a little fight in us and we have a little toughness in us,” said Quincy coach Andy Douglas, who saw All-WB6 guard Bradley Longcor III score just six points. “To come into this facility and fight the way our guys did in the first half was great. But we also learned that two quarters or two-and-a-half to three quarters isn’t enough against this caliber of team.

“(QHS assistant coach Bruce) Bonness mentioned before the game that against team’s like this it comes down to who does the little things better. You know guys are going to score. Teams are going to go on runs. For the majority of the game, I thought we did do some of those little things better. We fell a little short in the second half.”

Now Douglas and his staff get to see how this group bounces back from a loss with little turnaround time. The Blue Devils play host to Quincy Notre Dame in the crosstown showdown at 7 p.m. Saturday at Blue Devil Gym.

“It’s our first loss of the season, so we’re going to see what we’re made of,” Sprick said. “Are we going to come back as a team and play together? At times tonight, they hit shots and we didn’t stick together. That’s something we have to grow through. We’re going to grow together.

“The big thing is coming together and getting that one behind us.”

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