By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
COLLINSVILLE, Ill. — When the Quincy High School boys basketball team needed to change the pace of play, Cole Abbey knew just how to do it.
He shifted into overdrive.
Abbey, a senior guard, scored seven points in a pivotal 11-0 run to close the first half Thursday night. That enabled the Blue Devils to earn a 52-43 victory over Dunlap in the opening round of the 29th annual Collinsville Schnucks Holiday Classic.
"Cole really gave us a lift," Quincy coach Sean Taylor said. "He and Mason (Fairley) were really good defensively and changed the tempo of the game with their defense."
It was something Abbey wanted to do from the start.
"At first, I was mad because we started off slow," said Abbey, who led Quincy with a game-high 16 points. "I thought we should have come out strong, grabbed the lead and pushed it."
That didn't happen. Quincy didn't score until 3 minutes, 33 seconds had elapsed, didn't take the lead until Barnell Thomas' 15-foot jumper a minute later and didn't get the tempo to its liking until Abbey's determination and Fairley's intensity changed everything.
"I wanted to have the mentality we're going to get the pace going, but I didn't want Coach thinking I was doing whatever I want," Abbey said. "So I did it in spurts. I let the team know we need to pick it up."
Now the challenge becomes keeping the pace.
Quincy (9-1) advances to face third-seeded Springfield Southeast (7-2) in the quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Vergil Fletcher Gym. This is the 24th time in 25 appearances the Blue Devils have won their opening-round game, and they will be looking to reach the semifinals for the 15th time.
"We have to handle their pressure, and we have to make them score against our set defense," Taylor said. "If we can do those two things successfully, we have a great opportunity."
To do those things, the Blue Devils need to be tough.
"It's what we talked about after the game," said Fairley, who had five points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. "We need to be mentally and physically tougher than them. They're strong. They're athletic. They are going to make runs. They are going to make plays. If we can keep our head, if we can play tough and play hard, we'll have a good chance."
A better start would help, too. Quincy failed to score on its first five possessions and was down 6-0 before junior forward Luka Radovic scored off a Fairley assist with 4:27 remaining in the first quarter. A three-point play by Abbey and Thomas' jumper from the left elbow gave the Blue Devils a 7-6 lead.
"It took pressure off the starters," Thomas said. "It helped them get in the flow of the game."
The lead was short-lived. Dunlap scored on the next possession, and the lead changed hands seven more times before Quincy took control for good.
"There wasn't much panic," Taylor said. "We just dug in. It was a long game, and we didn't start off great, but we hung in there as a team."
With 2:31 remaining in the half, Jason Salrin tied the game with a pair of free throws before Abbey scored on three of the next five possessions. His steal and layup with 58 seconds remaining gave QHS a six-point lead, and he closed the half by scoring off a Martin Kvitle assist, drawing the foul and making the free throw for a 29-20 halftime lead.
Quincy scored the first five points of the second half to complete a 16-0 run and never allowed Dunlap (4-6) to draw closer than seven points the remainder of the game.
"Once we got our feet wet, we were off to the races," Fairley said. "We capitalized on some mistakes they made, and we were able to take care of the rest of the game."
The Blue Devils shot 50 percent from the field (17 of 34) and outscored the Eagles 30-16 in the paint. Quincy also had 23 points off 17 Dunlap turnovers.
"Once we got the tempo the way we wanted it to be, we were able to control the game," Fairley said. "That's what we wanted to do."