From ecstasy to misery in four seconds: Turnover on inbounds pass leads to bitter season-ending loss for QHS


Bradley Longcor III rests his head on teammate Keshaun Thomas' back in dejection after the Quincy High School boys basketball team lost 44-43 in the Class 4A sectional final on Friday night in Dawson Hawkins Gymnasium in Pekin, Ill. | David Adam photo

PEKIN, Ill. — Four seconds was all that separated the Quincy High School boys basketball team from one of its most inspirational and dramatic victories in many seasons.

Instead, the Blue Devils walked off the floor at Dawson Hawkins Gymnasium bewildered and shocked moments later.

An inbounds pass along the baseline from Tyler Sprick was caught by Ralph Wires, but it also caused him to lose his balance. As he fell out of bounds, Wires tried throwing the ball toward Sprick or teammate Bradley Longcor III under the Normal Community basket. 

Improbably, the ball went to the Ironmen’s 6-foot-10 Jaheem Webber, who simply turned and dunked the ball to beat the buzzer, giving the Ironmen a stunning 44-43 victory in the Class 4A Pekin Sectional final.

“I can go back a million different times. It’s going to live in my brain forever,” Wires said, fighting back tears. “If I can go back, I throw it across the court. I would just take it going out of bounds. I would do anything else.”

Amidst all the celebration, Normal Community coach Dave Witzig knew his team was extraordinarily fortunate.

“I’ve been a head coach for 25 years, and that’s the luckiest bounce we’ve ever got,” he said. “I mean, it bounced right to our 6-10 guy, who picked it up and dunked it for the win.”

Normal Community’s 6-foot-10 Jaheem Webber celebrates after his game-winning dunk. | David Adam

The victory sends Normal Community (30-5) to Monday’s Class 4A super-sectional in its backyard at CEFCU Arena at 7:30 p.m. Monday against Downers Grove North (29-4), which beat Bolingbrook 69-52 to win the sectional at Aurora East. 

Quincy ends its season with a 31-4 record. It’s only the fifth team in school history to win 31 games or more. The Blue Devils have won 85 games in the past three years, the most successful three-year run since Jerry Leggett guided QHS to 89 victories from 1980-82.

All of that success, however, was forgotten in the wake of an incredibly painful loss.

“That one was definitely supposed to be the other way around,” said junior Dom Clay, who hit what figured to be the game-winning 3-pointer from the corner with 21 seconds remaining in the game to put the Blue Devils ahead 43-42.

Quincy trailed 41-37 with 59 seconds remaining, but Longcor made a 3-pointer from in front of the QHS bench with 44 seconds remaining. The Ironmen’s Noah Cleveland split a pair of free throws with 40 seconds left, and on Quincy’s next possession, Wires drove the lane and attracted the attention of Cleveland, leaving Clay open for his shot.

Clay’s shot hit the front of the rim, the backboard and the rim again before falling through.

“I didn’t hesitate at all,” Clay said. “I mean, as soon as the ball touched my hand, I knew I was making it.”

“We got a wide-open look,” Blue Devils coach Andy Douglas said. “Ralph came off of the screen and was patient coming off the screen, and Dom knocks down one of the most clutch shots to give us the lead.”

Normal Community’s Braylon Roman, left, brings the ball up the court in the game’s final 20 seconds during the Class 4A sectional final Friday night at Dawson Hawkins Gym. | David Adam

What appeared to be Normal Community’s last gasp came when Braylon Roman used a double screen at the top of the key, went right and dribbled into a triple team by the Blue Devils’ Wires, Clay and Sprick. His 10-footer rimmed out, and Keshaun Thomas was fouled after he grabbed the rebound with 4.3 seconds to play.

“I was hoping he would try to force the shot up over the top of me, which is what he did,” Wires said. “I was trying to force him into my teammates.”

Quincy High School’s Dom Clay screams after teammate Keshaun Thomas is fouled with 4.3 seconds remaining in Friday night’s Class 4A boys basketball sectional championship game at Dawson Hawkins Gym. | David Adam

Quincy was overwhelmed early by Normal Community’s size, with no starter shorter than 6-foot-4 and three players at 6-foot-9 or taller. The Ironmen held Quincy scoreless on eight of its first 10 possessions and led 12-6 after one quarter.

The Ironmen took their biggest lead of the game at 17-8 on Roman’s 3-pointer at the 5:37 mark of the second quarter. However, the Blue Devils forced six turnovers and three missed shots in holding the Ironmen scoreless for the rest of the first half. A 3-pointer and a dunk by Clay sparked a seven-point run that got QHS within 17-15 at halftime.

“It was kind of a matchup zone, matching up with our guys, and then we were playing man,” Sprick said of the defense that forced 12 Normal Community turnovers in the first half. “We were switching all the time, every possession. We were kind of switching back and forth, just throwing different stuff at them. Fortunately, it worked out.”

“It took a quarter for us to figure some things out,” Douglas said. “Once we did, we had a nice run in the second quarter. Then to come out the way we did in the third, take the lead, and then fight back the way we did, well, defense is what we had to hang our hat on all season long.”

Quincy led for much of the third quarter, but Roman’s layup to beat the third-quarter buzzer put the Ironmen ahead 28-27.

Normal Community had three four-point leads in the fourth quarter, only for Quincy to storm back and take the lead in the final 30 seconds.

Longcor led the Blue Devils with 13 points, and Thomas added 12. Roman had 16 for the Ironmen.

“Quincy made some unbelievable 3-point shots,” Witzig said. “I thought we defended them well all night, and the Longcor kid is unbelievable. They run a great offense. The ball bounced our way tonight. I’m very thankful that we’re moving on.”

Meanwhile, Douglas had to say goodbye to one of the best teams in recent school history that was knocked out by one of the craziest finishes in school history.

“I hurt for the guys,” he said. “I mean, they’re the ones putting all the work in. They’re here every day. They’re making sacrifices as high school kids. This feeling just sucks. It’s a tough one, but I’m so proud of them. I love them. I can’t say much more to them than I love you and I appreciate you.”

Quincy High School’s Bradley Longcor III puts his arm around teammate Ralph Wires after the conclusion of Friday night’s Class 4A sectional boys basketball game at Dawson Hawkins Gym in Pekin. Bent over in front is Dom Clay. | David Adam

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