By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
The Quincy High School boys basketball team figured it was playing for second place Saturday night.
"Nobody wants to play for second place," senior guard Martin Kvitle said.
Urbana made sure the Blue Devils didn't have to.
The Tigers used a clutch free throw from Michael Thompson with 15.8 seconds remaining to upend Carbondale 59-58 in the 42nd annual QHS Thanksgiving Tournament and create the possibility of a three-way tie for the title.
After that, all Quincy had to do was beat Algonquin Jacobs and make its free throws -- the tiebreaker was cumulative free-throw percentage -- to capture its fourth straight championship.
"To be able to have a chance at the title, it was like, ‘All right, take it to the next level,'" Kvitle said.
Defensively, the Blue Devils did. Quincy limited Jacobs to single digit scoring in all four quarters, forced the Golden Eagles to shoot just 19.3 percent from the field and outrebounded them by 25 in a 51-25 victory at Blue Devil Gym.
Better yet, the Blue Devils were solid at the line. Quincy made 23 of 33 free throws, finishing the tournament at 73.2 percent (52 of 71). That was three percentage points better than Carbondale, giving the Blue Devils the title for eighth time in Sean Taylor's 10 seasons as head coach and 29th time overall.
"Whenever you can win a championship, it's something special," Taylor said. "I'm happy for these guys."
They were excited just to have a chance.
The Blue Devils went to the locker room for their
final pre-game preparations with Urbana trailing by four points. When they re-emerged, the Tigers were ahead by four points. So the Blue Devils packed themselves into the gap between the bleachers leading to their locker room in order to watch the final minutes unfold.
Urbana led 58-56 before Carbondale's Shamarc Bursey hit two free throws with 30 seconds remaining to knot the score.
"We all kind of panicked when it was tied," Quincy guard Cole Abbey said.
Moments later, Thompson was fouled. He made the first free throw, missed the second and the Terriers grabbed the rebound. After working into the frontcourt, Carbondale called timeout with 5.1 seconds remaining. Unable to inbound the ball, the Terriers burned their final timeout.
They were able to get the ball inbounded on the next set, but a pass was tipped out of bounds with 2.3 seconds remaining. The subsequent inbounds pass went to Carbondale's Elijah Bidinger in the right corner, but his 3-point attempt hit the side of the rim as time expired.
"We all went crazy like it was us out there," Abbey said.
Then the Blue Devils went to work.
Quincy scored the game's first seven points and never trailed, although Jacobs tied the game on Nick Ledinsky's 3-pointer with 2:21 to go in the first quarter. Just 13 seconds later, the Blue Devils' Zach Burry answered with a demoralizing 3-pointer, putting the Golden Eagles on their heels.
Jacobs scored just four points the remainder of the half, shooting 17.2 percent from the field and failing to get to the free-throw line.
"Coach put it in our heads we have to play defense like that every game," Abbey said.
The Blue Devils also need big performances from their big men.
Junior forward Connor Mellon recorded the first double-double of the season, finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Luka Radovic had six points and seven boards. All told, the four forwards combined for 22 points, 29 rebounds and two blocked shots.
The Blue Devils outrebounded the Golden Eagles 52-27.
"Our bigs just keep grinding and grinding and grinding," said Kvitle, named the tournament MVP after scoring 14 points, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out four assists. "I don't think we knew how they'd do because they didn't look that good in practice. I think that's because their going against each other in practice and they're so good on defense they make each other look bad.
"So coming out here it's easy for them to score, and you can see they're getting better."
Quincy struggled offensively, shooting just 34.2 percent from the field and making just 2 of 16 3-pointers. But the Blue Devils relied on their defense and played with the extra motivation that comes with the chance to win a title
"It gives you a little spring," Taylor said. "Our guys showed that. It's something you like to see."