By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS -- The Quincy University men's basketball team left the gimmick defenses in the Gem City on Saturday.
At Maryville's Moloney Arena, there were no 1-3-1, 2-3 or matchup zones to be found. For the first time in a long time, the Hawks played exclusively man-to-man defense. They delivered arguably their best defensive showing of the season.
QU limited Maryville to 35.3 percent shooting and gutted out a 49-46 Great Lakes Valley Conference victory to clinch its bid to the conference tournament.
Quincy limited Maryville to two points in the final eight minutes.
"We said to ourselves, ‘We're going to take this challenge and play man-to-man. We aren't playing zone,'" said QU senior forward Tyler Thompson, who had a game-high 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"The coaches kind of just challenged us, and we agreed. If we were going to lose this thing, it was going to be on us, and we're going to have to look at the defensive end. It wasn't going to be putting the ball in the peach basket. It has to be our defense."
Maryville's Armon Provo drained a 3-pointer to put the Saints ahead 39-30 with 13:34 to play. It marked the Saints' largest lead of the game, and the Hawks responded with an 18-5 run.
QU took a 45-44 lead on Jens Kennedy's baby hook with 6:58 remaining and never relinquished it.
"When we came back from nine down, that gave us tremendous confidence," QU coach Marty Bell said.
The signature play for Quincy (12-13, 7-10) came with 32 seconds remaining and the Hawks leading 46-44. Thompson missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and a scramble ensued for the rebound. QU's Chris Babbitt dove and got a hand on the ball to keep the scramble going before Thompson dove to secure possession, and Bell called a timeout.
"Frankly, right when I saw that (free throw) go out, I was going to do whatever it took to get that ball," Thompson said. "If that meant dive on it, jump out of bounds, jump over the chairs, I had to get it. And Coach Bell had the quick mindset to call a timeout."
Babbitt, who had nine points and eight rebounds, was fouled out of the timeout and made two free throws to put QU ahead 48-44 with 27 seconds to play.
The game was played largely at a deliberate pace, which Maryville (22-8, 11-6) generally thrives at. Yet, QU beat the Saints at their own game by limiting them to 1-of-12 shooting and four turnovers in the final 11:05.
When Maryville's Gerald Shaw made a layup with 20 seconds remaining to trim QU's lead to 48-46 with 20 seconds remaining, it snapped a Maryville field-goal drought of 11 ½ minutes.
Maryville went 3 of 22 from 3-point range. The Saints were 10 of 22 from beyond the arc during their 70-61 win over QU on Feb. 2 at Pepsi Arena.
"Defensively, we all came together and stopped the ball a lot better than we did the last time we played them," Babbitt said. "When they went on that little run (to go ahead 39-30), we just said to ourselves, ‘Now it's time for us to get some stops and make our run.'"
Bell's teams generally play man-to-man defense nearly all of the time. Here recently though, the Hawks have used a lot of zone as they've tried to mend a defense that has performed inconsistently this season.
Bell said he might still throw a zone at opponents in spot situations but that he's probably done using zone as a primary option.
"Our defense was the best maybe it's been all year, especially in the last 10 minutes," Bell said. "You're more accountable in man-to-man. No question.
"It was 45-44 for about an hour. Neither team could score. But what we did today was we didn't let our offensive woes affect our defensive energy."
When it was over, the Hawks could've cared less that they scored only 49 points or shot 34 percent from the field.
"We just won a battle," Thompson said. "We just won a slugfest."