David Adam

Beyond the Boxscore: QND players take over in locker room after first-round escape

Aaron Smith
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Dec. 27, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Dec. 28, 2017 2:26 am

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- Quincy Notre Dame boys basketball coach Kevin Meyer went into the locker room expecting to have a chance to deliver a stern message after Wednesday's 62-60 victory over Minonk Fieldcrest in the first round of the State Farm Holiday Classic.

It turned out he didn't need to say anything.

Instead, he said the players did all the talking afterward and pointed out areas that needed to be addressed.

"I'm not sure I can say what was said, but the players took over," Meyer said.

"The coaches sat there, and we talked among ourselves," Little said. "We talked about what we didn't do and what we need to do better."

Fieldcrest scored just 20 points in the first half, missing 18 out of 26 shots from the field and eight of nine from 3-point range.

The Knights made 14 of 22 shots in the second half, including six of eight 3-point attempts. Fieldcrest was outrebounded 16-10 in the first half but outrebounded the Raiders 12-10 in the second half.

"(Fieldcrest) made a lot of shots, but there was a bunch of stuff we could have done," Little said. "There were a lot of plays on defense we should have made, and we left No. 5 (freshman guard Jaxon Cusac-McKay, who scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half) open a few times.

"We said we've got to pick it up, and we've got to calm down."

Chipping Away

Knights coach Matt Winkler had only one thought after his team fell behind 11-0 and didn't score until 2:05 remained in the first quarter.

"We needed our kids to play harder and better," he said.

The Knights eventually got to within 18-15, but the Raiders pushed the lead out to 39-20 when Jase Wallingford rebounded his own miss and scored to open the second half. The lead was still at 15 points when Reed Hyer scored to start the fourth quarter.

Fieldcrest changed the game by going to a full-court man-to-man press. The Raiders turned the ball over five times in the fourth quarter and three times in the final 2:11.

"Our defense got better," Winkler said. "We upped the tempo and extended our pressure."

Spark off the bench

Senior reserve Aaron Smith made three 3-pointers in a two-minute span to end the first half. A fourth 3-point attempt rattled in and out.

Meyer set up a special play for Smith on the final play of the second quarter, using a double screen set by Little and Jonny Bottorff to give Smith an open look from the left wing that he made.

Smith has made 12 out of 21 3-point shots this season. However, he didn't play much in the second half, despite the hot hand.

"Aaron has been battling a little sickness," Meyer said. "He had four good shots and knocks down three of them."

Money in the bank

A shot that excited the crowd at the end of the first quarter was long forgotten by the end of the game, but it turned out to be critical for the Raiders.

QND had the ball underneath the Fieldcrest basket with two seconds left. An inbounds pass went to Little inside the midcourt stripe. He turned, took one dribble past a Knights defender and let it fly, banking it off the glass for a 3-pointer to give the Raiders an 18-9 lead.

"I always call my banks," Little said afterward with a grin.

Noteworthy

Senior reserve forward Clay Venvertloh, who is averaging 10 points per game, was on the bench but was wearing street clothes for Wednesday's game. Meyer said Venvertloh was sick and that his situation would be re-evaluated on Thursday.

QND has played Fieldcrest four times in Classic history, and each game was decided by two points or less. The Knights won 59-57 in 2010, QND won 46-44 in 2012 and QND won 52-51 in 2013.

Seven of the first eight first-round games in the small school boys bracket went as expected, and five of them were blowouts. El-Paso Gridley held off Champaign St. Thomas More 63-55 in the other close first-rounder. The only upset was by Bloomington Central Catholic, which whipped sixth-seeded Piasa Southwestern (10-2) 74-40.

Four of the small school boys quarterfinalists are undefeated -- Aurora Christian and Annawan are 10-0, and Winnebago and St. Joseph-Ogden are 9-0.

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