By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
The Quincy High School boys basketball players understood they were tip-toeing a fine line Thursday night.
Still, the Blue Devils couldn't avoid getting tripped up by it.
QHS went from playing with confidence in building a 10-point lead over Carbondale to assuming the lead was safe. It wasn't. Struggles scoring and the inability to shut down Terriers guard Devontavious Payne over the final 22 minutes led to a 76-70 loss on the opening night of the 42nd annual QHS Thanksgiving Tournament at Blue Devil Gym.
The Blue Devils hadn't lost their season opener since 2007, and it's only the sixth time it has happened since the tournament began.
"We all relaxed," senior guard Martin Kvitle said. "Being up so much ... we just relaxed."
Did the Blue Devils relax too much?
"Yeah," Kvitle said. "I think so."
Quincy coach Sean Taylor didn't expect that.
"We have to play 32 minutes," Taylor said. "I like our guys. I like our talent. But we're a team that has to play 32 minutes and execute and do what you're supposed to do when you're supposed to do it. We can't afford to take possessions off. It hurts."
It hurt bad in the second quarter.
Kvitle's third 3-pointer of the opening stretch gave the Blue Devils a 31-21 lead with 6 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter before the offense went cold.
Quincy failed to make another field goal the remainder of the first half, scoring only on a pair of Kvitle free throws as the lead evaporated.
The Blue Devils went 2 for 23 from the field in the second quarter, and the only two field goals were 3-pointers.
"Defense did it for us," Carbondale coach Jim Miller said. "I'm thrilled with the effort our kids gave."
Such effort produced big dividends on the offensive end.
Payne buried back-to-back 3-pointers to start the second quarter, and Allen Billinger made two free throws and a 3-pointer on the same possession -- Mason Fairley was whistled for an intentional foul -- to make it a one-point game with 4:29 to go in the first half.
Carbondale took the lead on Denzel McCauley's layin and extended it to 37-33 at halftime with Shamarc Bursey's 3-point play in the closing seconds.
"It's the mentality," Taylor said. "We didn't have a defensive mentality. We should have it. We need it from all five guys on the court. I don't think we had that.
"We've been good here because we've been good on defense. We certainly weren't good on defense tonight."
Offensively, the Blue Devils tried to pick it up.
Down by six midway through the third quarter, Quincy's Cole Abbey scored on a putback, broke the press and finished the coast-to-coast drive with an electric dunk and finished the 8-0 run with his steal and dunk.
It momentarily gave QHS the lead.
Payne simply seized it back.
His 3-pointer put the Terriers back up by one, and after a tug-of-war with the lead led to a tie at 59 with 5:28 to go, Payne scored on three consecutive possessions to change the tide.
"He let it come to him," Miller said. "It wasn't that he had to force the situation. His teammates knew he was hot. He was confident and he stepped up and made some big plays for us."
Payne made 6 of 12 3-pointers and went 7 of 7 from the line to score 33 points. He also grabbed nine rebounds.
"It all comes back to defense," Kvitle said. "When you're up 10, there's no reason you should lose."
Kvitle tried to keep it from happening. He scored 27 points, but after making three of his first five 3-point attempts, he missed his last six shots.
"I was thinking, ‘It's going to come back. It's going to come back eventually,'" Kvitle said.
The Blue Devils each hoped for the same thing. Overall, QHS went 5 of 21 from 3-point range.
"It's a learning experience, but it leaves a sour taste," Kvitle said. "I wasn't thinking we were going to lose. No one was. It's tough."