Blue Devils clamp down on high-scoring Rocks, force winner-take-all WB6 championship game on Thursday


The defensive presence of Quincy High School junior forward Keshaun Thomas helped the Blue Devils dispatch Rock Island 58-49 on Tuesday night at Blue Devil Gym. | Muddy River Sports file photo

QUINCY — To take advantage of the switching man-to-man defense used by the Quincy High School boys basketball team, Rock Island tried to isolate K.J. Lamonte, its top scorer, on Keshaun Thomas, the Blue Devils’ 6-foot-5 junior forward.

Every time Lamonte tried to slash to the basket in the first half, Thomas forced him to the baseline. When Lamonte tried to step back to shoot a 3-pointer, Thomas had a hand in his face.

“(Thomas) was phenomenal tonight,” Blue Devils coach Andy Douglas said after Tuesday night’s 58-49 victory in a Western Big 6 Conference game in Blue Devil Gym. “I think it helped kickstart some of our other guys into stepping it up defensively, too.”

The victory sets up a winner-take-all conference championship game Thursday night between the Rocks and Blue Devils at Rock Island. Each team has an 11-2 record in league play.

Rock Island had been averaging 71 points per game in league play, and Lamonte was the WB6’s top scorer at 18.5 points per game. However, the Blue Devils forced the Rocks into 7-for-23 shooting in the first half, and Thomas’ work on Lamonte limited him to just one basket as the hosts took a 33-20 halftime lead.

“(Rock Island) is a tough team to go guard when they’re playing five out,” Douglas said. “You hope your big can guard. We know that ours can guard on the perimeter. I told a couple of guys at the beginning of the year that we’re going to switch everything at times, understanding that KeShaun can guard anybody on the perimeter.”

Thomas said he could sense Lamonte’s frustration.

“Once he saw that I could actually play defense, I feel like he didn’t know what to do but pass the ball,” Thomas said. “Once he kept going baseline, even if he got past me, we had help defensively. He couldn’t do anything about it.”

He said practicing against his teammates has made him a better defender.

“In practice, I’m guarding outside more, and they’re trying to drive and drive and drive,” he said. “I feel like I’ve taken more pride in my defense. When I saw that (the Rocks) were trying to isolate me, that made me more energized. I want to play defense and not let him pass me, which I did.”

The rest of the Blue Devils were stingy defensively, too. Dezmond Jackson, the Rocks’ second leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, was held scoreless on Tuesday.

Rock Island led 14-13 with two minutes left in the first quarter. Quincy limited the Rocks to 2-of-13 shooting the rest of the half and four turnovers.

Helping spark the Quincy offense in the first half was Tyler Sprick, who made two 3-pointers and scored eight points. His 3-pointer on the Blue Devils’ last possession of the first half gave them their biggest lead of the half. 

“Tyler, I mean, I love that kid for a lot of different reasons,” Douglas said. “He’s a phenomenal competitor. He’ll do anything and everything it takes to win games. He’ll sacrifice scoring at times to step up. He’s just an unbelievable team player, and we needed it from him.”

Sprick credited his teammates for his first-half success.

“They gave me the ball in the right positions,” he said. “Cam (Brown) set me a great screen on a flare, and Brad (Longcor) found ways to get me the ball. I was able to knock down shots.”

The same couldn’t be said for the rest of the Blue Devils, who missed eight layups or putbacks on offensive rebounds in the first half and could have easily led by 20 points or more at the break. Three more point-blank misses to start the third quarter allowed Rock Island to go on a 13-1 run. Lamonte scored eight points and Larry OIivier Jr. added a 3-pointer and a steal for a layup that got the Rocks within 34-33.

“It’s tough when you leave that many out there,” Douglas said. “That should be an eye-opening thing for our guys. If we make some of those, just half of them, think about where we’re at.”

Longcor hit a 3-pointer to stop Rock Island’s run, and a pull-up jumper by Thomas and a driving layup to beat the third-quarter buzzer by Longcor put the hosts ahead 41-35. 

Rock Island got as close as 43-39 in the fourth quarter, but four straight empty possessions were too much to overcome. A 3-pointer by Dom Clay pushed the lead back into double digits at 59-39. The clinching basket came after the Blue Devils missed a layup and two offensive rebound putbacks before Thomas finally made one with three minutes to go, making the lead 13 points.

The Blue Devils turned the ball over four times against Rock Island’s press in the final 2:28, but the Rocks got no closer than seven.

Longcor led Quincy (27-3) with 17 points, while Thomas added 13. Lamonte finished with 18 points for the Rocks (23-7).

Now the teams get to do it all again in two days.

“It’s going to be rough playing at their place,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be a brawl for sure.”

“(Two games in three days) is new for guys on both sides,” Douglas said. “It’s different, but this is what you want. You get a game at home to put you in position to win the conference. I mean, that’s huge. We know it’s going to be extremely difficult to go into Rocky and play. It always is. You’ve got to expect that they’re going to make adjustments. We’re going to make a couple of adjustments as well. It’s going to be a knock-down-drag-out kind of game like tonight.”

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