By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Connor Mellon believes he's gained the trust of his teammates.
Saturday night showed why.
Mellon, a junior forward on the Quincy High School boys basketball team who transferred from Quincy Notre Dame at the beginning of the school year, made two pivotal baskets in the fourth quarter to help the Blue Devils hold Champaign Central at bay and pick up a 60-49 victory at Blue Devil Gym.
"They'll gain more confidence in me when they see I can attack the rim," Mellon said. "Honestly, I feel like I need to score more. I attacked the rim, and it worked out."
It was needed.
The Blue Devils (15-4) had pushed their lead to 13 points early in the fourth quarter before the Maroons (4-13) showed some resiliency. Champaign Central scored on four of five possessions, trimming the deficit to 49-43 with 5 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in regulation.
"It wasn't like we had a big lead," Mellon said. "Something had to happen."
Mellon made it happen. Catching a pass at the high post, he turned to face the basket and drove hard down the right side of the lane for a bucket. Two possessions later, he was fouled going to the rim and made both free throws, extending the lead back to eight points with 3:28 to play.
"Connor plays tough and gives us a physicalness that we need," Quincy coach Sean Taylor said. "When the ball goes in, it makes him feel a little better. Him guarding and rebounding and posting hard is really what we need, and he does a great job of that."
The Blue Devils do a solid job of finishing games at the line, too.
Quincy went 7 of 8 from the charity stripe in the final three minutes with point guard Martin Kvitle, who led QHS with 15 points, making 5 of 6 freebies. The Blue Devils were 9 of 10 from the line in the fourth quarter and 14 of 16 overall.
"Grinding out victories, one after another," Mellon said.
This time, it took a salty defensive effort.
The Maroons, who came in having lost six of their previous seven games, outrebounded the Blue Devils 18-10 the first 16 minutes and traded the lead three times in the first quarter. However, Quincy was able to force four turnovers in the second quarter, leading to six points as the Blue Devils pushed the lead to 33-25 by halftime.
"We had to dig down and play defense," said Quincy guard Cole Abbey, who had 14 points and two steals. "That was the key."
So was a minor defensive adjustment at halftime.
Quincy changed the way it was playing the ball screen, hedging the guards instead of trying to trap each time. It led to the Maroons shooting just 25 percent from the 3-point stripe and 42 percent overall, while Quincy's help defense limited the Maroons' top two scorers -- Xavier Martin and Christopher Hutchinson -- to 13 points.
They came in averaging 22 points combined.
"We were there and Jason (Salrin) cleaned up," said Taylor, noting Salrin blocked six shots to go along with eight rebounds. "And people were helping Jason, so we weren't giving up second-chance points. That was key. Our help defense was pretty good."
It needed to be.
"We have to play defense," Abbey said. "That's how we win."