By GREG SHASHACK
Special to The Herald-Whig
GRANITE CITY, Ill. -- The rich tradition of the Quincy High School boys basketball program will make for a better story when Alton coach Eric Smith tells of his first postseason victory.
But after the third-seeded Redbirds erased an early nine-point deficit to beat the second-seeded Blue Devils 51-49 in overtime Wednesday night in the semifinals of the Class 4A Granite City Regional, Smith was not consumed by caliber of the opposition.
"For me, in my first year," Smith said with a smile, "any win's good."
And by eliminating Quincy, which owns a state-record 59 regional titles, the Redbirds earn another shot at top-seeded Edwardsville in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Blue Devils had reeled off an 11-game winning streak early in the season before making the trek to Granite City with five losses in their last six games. And they were unable to buck that trend, ending their season at 16-10.
Quincy has not won a regional since 2009. That four-year postseason title drought is the longest the Blue Devils have endured since winning their first district title in 1924. Quincy endured a title-less stretch of three seasons from 1975-77.
Larry Givens' basket with 26 seconds remaining in overtime provided the game-winning points for the Redbirds (13-17). Quincy got off an uncontested 3-pointer from senior Mason Fairley and a rushed putback as the buzzer sounded from junior Zach Burry, but neither would fall.
"We got two pretty good looks," said Quincy coach Sean Taylor, whose team was unable to execute option No. 1 on the inbounds play with nine seconds left by getting the ball to senior point guard Mason Kvitle. "I'm pleased with the looks, disappointed they didn't go in."
Quincy also had a chance to win in regulation, but Kvitle's short baseline jumper under heavy duress was no good at the buzzer.
The Blue Devils led 45-41 with 1:54 left in the fourth quarter, but a four-point trip by Alton -- on two Tyrome Parker baskets around a missed free throw -- tied the game with 1:22 left and Quincy held the ball for Kvitle's last shot.
The 6-foot-3 Kvitle carried a heavy burden against Alton's pressure and was unshaken while leading the Blue Devils with 16 points.
"He was really good and he's been like that all year," Taylor said. "He handles the ball. He scores for us. We probably ask him to do too much, but he's done a great job for us the last three years."
Smith, familiar with Quincy as a longtime assistant at Galesburg before taking the Alton job, expected nothing less from Kvitle.
"Our athleticism's not going to bother (Kvitle) because he sees that from Rocky, UT -- Quincy goes out and plays a schedule," Smith said. "It's not like he doesn't have people come out and guard him during the regular season. He's a good player and he's been a good player there for three years up there."
Luka Radovic, a 6-7 junior, added 14 points and six rebounds for Quincy before fouling out in the opening minute of overtime on what Taylor called "a great effort and a pretty good basketball play."
Parker led the Redbirds with 20 points and A'Basa Brown added 12, including a pair of 3-pointers less than a minute apart that turned a 30-26 halftime deficit into a 32-30 Alton lead midway through the third quarter.
Alton, which committed just five turnovers, shot 43 percent (18 of 42) from the field, including 4 of 17 from 3-point range, and made 11 of 20 free throws. Quincy shot 49 percent (18 of 37) and was 10 of 10 from the foul line.
The Blue Devils led 28-19 late in the first half when Alton responded with seven unanswered points in a span of 23 seconds that included two Quincy turnovers.
"Live-ball turnovers were going to hurt us against Alton because they're going to be shooting layups on the other end," Taylor said. "We don't have a defense for that. When we were able set up our defense, we did a pretty effective job of guarding them,"
Parker's layuup off the last of Quincy's 11 turnovers gave Alton a lead in overtime it would never relinquish. And that, Smith said, was of comfort when looking at the coach standing at the other end of the court.
"It was really important getting the lead because (Taylor's) a pretty good coach," Smith said. "He's had a lot of success in his career and a lot of success at Quincy. I've been around him long enough from his days at Macomb to know that I certainly wanted it to be in the players' hands and not have it come down between me and him."