QUINCY -- Tanner Stuckman's uneasiness was understandable.
With 12 minutes, 33 seconds remaining in the first half Saturday, Quincy University junior guard Austin Downing picked up his second foul and was relegated to the bench. It came just two minutes after junior Ryan Briscoe endured the same fate.
It forced the Hawks to turn to freshman guard Justin Warren to run the offense the remainder of the half,
"I was a little nervous," said Stuckman, the junior forward and the Hawks' leading scorer. "Justin's a freshman and that's a big step, a big-time step in conference play."
Warren made it look natural.
The Chicago Whitney Young product entered the game with the Hawks trailing Missouri S&T 12-10 and he led them to locker room with a 39-34 lead in what ultimately was an 88-81 victory in Great Lakes Valley Conference play at Pepsi Arena.
"He did a phenomenal job," Stuckman said. "He did a really good job of controlling the pace and finding guys. He was part of that second group that played hard. They just played harder than anyone. That was really cool to see."
Warren efficiently and effectively ran the offense for 12 solid minutes and ended up playing 16 minutes total -- he hadn't played more than 12 minutes in a game decided by less than 30 points this season -- and finished with four points, two assists and two rebounds.
"I just want to stay ready, whether I play 20 minutes or two minutes," Warren said. "I just want to give my all with effort and energy."
Warren understood the circumstances Saturday and tried to keep the Hawks playing at a high level. They were shooting 72.7 percent from the field when he entered the game and finished the half shooting 61.5 percent with 10 assists on 16 field goals.
"I wanted to add to it, not take from it," Warren said.
He certainly did that.
"I told him how proud of him I was," Downing said. "He's bought in every day of asking questions and doing what the coaches have asked. It's coming for him. He's a huge part of that win."
It's a huge confidence boost for a player steadily discovering he can play at this level.
"My parents always tell me things aren't always going to be smooth," Warren said. "It's been a big learning experience for me. I'm learning every day, improving both offensively and defensively. I'm just picking things up from the guys. When you learn every day, the sky is the limit."
Saturday was proof he's ready to reach for the sky.
"He continues to gather more confidence each time we're out there," QU coach Ryan Hellenthal said. "Our bench is going to be the key to our year with our numbers and where we're at. I'm very pleased with how they played."