Short-handed Suns no match for revved-up Raiders over final three quarters

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AUGUSTA, Ill. — The Quincy Notre Dame boys basketball team could sympathize watching Southeastern all-state senior forward Danny Stephens walk to mid-court during Monday’s senior night festivities in street clothes, unable to play in the highly anticipated showdown between two of the area’s top teams.

“We just went through it,” QND coach Kevin Meyer said. “We lost Jake (Wallingford) for 21 games and we understand.”

Stephens, a University of Missouri signee, was hurt in Saturday’s KHQA-American Family Insurance Superfan Shootout contest against Steeleville in what Suns coach Brett Ufkes described as a freak injury.

“He did take a spill in the game. He’s got some swelling which he says is moving down his leg,” Ufkes said. “It’s hurting him but it’s not hurting him as much as it did (Sunday). That’s a positive. He’s going to get an MRI (Tuesday). Once he gets that read, we’ll know more if there’s structural damage.”

Despite being without the services of its top player Southeastern didn’t back down. 

Griffin Tippey, Austin Stoneking and Owen Rigg combined for the Suns’ 14 points in the opening frame as they trailed 15-14 after the first quarter.

That was enough to wake up the Raiders.

QND opened the second quarter on a 19-0 run, holding Southeastern scoreless for the first 4 minutes, 39 seconds en route to a 69-29 victory.

“Turning up the pressure and playing as a team on defense, rather than individually,” QND senior guard Jackson Stratton said was the difference between the first two quarters. “We let too many people go by us 1-on-1, and we just had to pay better defense.”

The Raiders forced five consecutive turnovers to begin the second quarter and separated themselves thanks in part to senior guard Braden Sheffield, who came off the bench and had 10 of his game-high 12 points in the second quarter, including two breakaway dunks.

“I’m just trying to bring energy to the group,” Sheffield said. “When our first group comes out and they’re a little tired, then me and (Josh) Bocke come in, and (the opponent) is not able to handle it. Our press just shut them out. I think our pressure is what won us the game.”

It was only Sheffield’s third game of the season following a mutually agreed upon decision to allow to him to join the team after he chose not to play at the beginning of the season.

“We’re happy that he’s back with us,” Meyer said. “I think he’s a young man that absolutely deserves a second chance. He’s fought his way back and we embraced it. Gosh, he was really good tonight. It’s great to have him back.”

QND (16-8) started the second half in similar fashion. The Raiders scored the first 13 points of the third quarter and built a 33-point lead to force a running clock in the fourth quarter.

“We’re still just trying to get in a groove and I feel like we’re starting to hit it,” said Stratton, who finished with 11 points, four assists and three rebounds.

The Raiders forced 21 turnovers and had 34 rebounds, limiting the Suns to few second chance opportunities.

“Once they get into their sets, they’re really sharp so we wanted to make them play fast, disrupt in the half court, and then swarm,” Meyer said. “We had a bunch of guys flying around like sharks with blood in the water.”

Ufkes admitted Southeastern (23-6) was simply out-manned.

“We did OK in the first quarter breaking the press and getting to the rim,” he said. “They wore us down, got three or four quick turnovers in a row for layups, and then they kind of smelled the blood in the water and really turned their pressure up. They killed us inside, too. Their size, with (Alex) Connoyer and Wallingford, we knew was going to be difficult to guard, but they did a good job of executing and being hungrier on the glass.”

Connoyer had nine points and six boards while Wallingford finished with seven points and eight rebounds. Tippey was the lone Suns player in double figures with 10 points.

QND extended its winning streak to four games and the Raiders are 3-0 since the return of Wallingford and Sheffield. They will travel to Unity on Tuesday before hosting Liberty on Friday followed by a trip to Rushville-Industry on Saturday.

“Our goal is Champaign,” Sheffield said referring to the site of the IHSA state tournament at State Farm Center in March. “If we want to get there, we have to play like we did tonight.”

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