By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
COLLINSVILLE, Ill. -- Sean Taylor understands the championship trophy is headed to East St. Louis.
Yet, he insists he's bringing home the team with championship fight.
Despite falling behind by 13 points in the first quarter of Saturday night's championship game of the 29th annual Collinsville Schnucks Holiday Classic, the Quincy High School boys basketball team tried everything imaginable to fight its way back.
The Flyers simply did a little more.
On the strength of 70 percent shooting from the free-throw line and a dominant effort on the offensive glass, East St. Louis won a rematch of the 1999 championship game with a 60-52 victory at Vergil Fletcher Gym.
"I can't fault our effort," said Taylor, who led Quincy to the title game for the second time in his 10 seasons coaching the Blue Devils. "Maybe we turned the ball over more than we wanted, but they battled. ... I know they're going to be disappointed, but I'm proud of them.
"I was proud of them for the way they won the last two games, and I'm proud of this effort."
That's because Quincy (11-2) never waved the proverbial white flag.
Down 46-36 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils trimmed the Flyers' lead to seven points on four separate occasions and cut it to six on Jason Salrin's two free throws with 27 seconds remaining.
However, Quincy couldn't get the turnover or missed free throws it needed to fire one final salvo.
East St. Louis (8-6) went 12 of 16 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter
"We never quit," said Quincy guard Mason Fairley, as the Blue Devils endured losing Connor Mellon to a technical foul and ejection and a bench technical in the second half. "They were good and they were physical, but I didn't think we backed down. We kept on giving it to them the way we knew we could. I couldn't be more proud of the guys for the way we played and the way we fought.
"I just wish we could have made a few more plays."
A better start may have changed things.
The Blue Devils turned the ball over on four of their first five possessions, gave up four offensive rebounds and four second-chance points and only had one starter score the first 7 minutes, 20 seconds of the game. By that time, the Flyers had extended an 8-0 lead to a 17-4 advantage.
It didn't help either having Quincy guard Martin Kvitle whistled for an intentional foul while trying to block a dunk attempt by East St. Louis' DeShawn Munson. It led to a three-point possession and was one of three fouls Kvitle picked up in the game's first 10 minutes.
The keys are don't turn the ball over and don't give up offensive rebounds," Taylor said. "It's easy for me to say that when I'm not being swarmed by really quick guys and I'm not the one giving up 100 pounds to post player you just can't move."
Quincy got as close as five points in the second quarter, but still found itself down 13 in the final minute of the half. That's when Connor Mellon scored from the block and Cole Abbey drained a half-court shot at the buzzer to cut the halftime deficit to 33-25.
Quincy couldn't carry it over into a momentum-shifting run.
Kvitle's two free throws to start the second half made it a six-point game, but the Blue Devils misfired on their next four shots. In fact, Quincy did not have a stretch in the second half where it scored on more than two consecutive possessions.
"We competed so hard," said Kvitle, who had 17 points and made the all-tournament team along with Abbey. "You look at the second half and how we played. We're right there with them. We couldn't afford to have such a terrible start.
"If we come out stronger and don't play from behind, maybe it's a different outcome."
Had the Blue Devils been able to keep the Flyers off the offensive glass, things might have been different, too.
East St. Louis corralled 16 offensive boards and outscored Quincy 18-8 in second-chance points as Johnny McCray finished with 17 points, five offensive rebounds and four putbacks.
"Johnny's a great player," Flyers coach Antonio Young said. "I keep telling everyone he's the most underrated big guy in the (Southwestern Conference), most underrated big guy in this area."
Munson added 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Flyers outrebounded the Blue Devils 37-32, ruining the chance of Quincy winning its first Collinsville title since 1997.
"To go through this tournament, with this talented of a field and win it, I would have loved to have done that," Kvitle said. "Sometimes, a loss helps. We'll learn from this. They beat Edwardsville. So we know we can play Edwardsville (a potential regional foe). If we can play with East St. Louis, we can play with any of them."