By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
Barnell Thomas' nerves lingered until his first shot dropped.
That happened to be 48 seconds into Thursday night's game.
"As soon as the game got upbeat, I settled down," Thomas said.
It took his Quincy High School boys basketball teammates a little longer.
Unable to gain any significant separation from Urbana over the first three quarters, the Blue Devils broke a 39-39 tie by going on a 20-3 run to close the game and produce a 59-42 victory to kick off the 43rd annual QHS Thanksgiving Tournament at Blue Devil Gym.
"One we got over the nerves, we started playing like we practiced," Quincy senior forward Luka Radovic said. "And we've practiced really well."
The Blue Devils must have worked on developing a killer instinct.
After a turnover to start the fourth quarter allowed the Tigers' Marcus Catchings to tie the game as he split a pair of free throws, the Blue Devils took the lead for good when junior guard Lincoln Elbe buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 7 minutes, 15 seconds remaining.
"From there, we never looked back," Quincy coach Sean Taylor said. "That's really good for a team that's never really been in that situation. We were in a lot of those situations last season, but not with these guys. They really found a way to dig in and really make some plays."
So much of it had to do with defense.
Urbana shot nearly 50 percent from the field (9 of 20) in the first half, but made only six field goals in the second half. The Tigers went 1 of 13 from the field in the fourth quarter, making just 1 of 7 3-pointers.
Overall, Urbana went 3 of 16 from 3-point range.
"We helped and we were in gaps," Thomas said. "If they drove, we collapsed and made them kick it out. They pretty much didn't get in the lane, and it forced them to hit jumpers, which they struggled to do."
The Blue Devils didn't allow many second-chance points, either. The Tigers converted eight offensive rebounds into just three points in the second half.
"One way your percentage goes up is by scoring easy buckets on putbacks," Taylor said. "We didn't give them those opportunities."
That's because the post trio of Thomas, Radovic and senior forward Connor Mellon made themselves a focal point of the offense.
On the first two possessions of the third quarter, the Blue Devils found Radovic with a mismatch on the block and he converted both times. In the fourth quarter, they went to Mellon, and he made three of his four field goal attempts.
All told, the frontcourt combined for 29 points and 21 rebounds with 19 points and 13 rebounds coming in the second half.
"Coach was trying to drill it into the guards that if we have our guy sealed to get it into the post," Mellon said. "Good things always happen when you get it into the post."
The pace of play suited that. The Blue Devils committed three fewer turnovers in the second half, shot considerably better from the field (48 percent compared to 36 percent) and distributed the ball better, with eight of their 12 assists coming the final 15 minutes.
"That was the key word for the second half -- pace," said Radovic, who had nine points and nine rebounds. "We were trying to push too much in the first half."
A more concerted effort to get the ball inside changed that.
"That's what our team is about," Thomas said. "For our post to take command in the second half, it got us the lead."