QUINCY -- There was a time when scoring just 14 points in three games would have meant Tommy Ray wasn't making a difference for the Quincy Notre Dame boys basketball game.
Ray struggled offensively in his first three games at the State Farm Holiday Classic, making just 5 of 25 shots. He was in the midst of a stretch during which he had made just five 3-point shots in 29 attempts.
Asked if he would have been defensive or frustrated with his scoring troubles in years past, Ray said, "I completely agree. I used to be harder on myself when I was younger."
But Raiders coach Kevin Meyer wasn't worried. He saw Ray getting defensive in the proper way.
The Raiders started using a 1-2-2 zone more frequently during the tournament, and Ray was harassing opponents at the top of that zone. QND held its first three opponents to 34-percent shooting and an average of 47 points per game.
Ray's effectiveness on defense was shown by the numbers, but Meyer knew the moment when he was convinced that Ray was completely sold on being a defensive game-changer. The 6-foot-5 senior forward tipped a pass into the backcourt in the semifinals against Aurora Christian, and as the ball rolled toward the Raiders' bench, Ray dove and slid across the floor in an effort to retrieve it.
His effort was unsuccessful, but it made an impression on Meyer.
"The last time he dove for a ball like that was last year at Beardstown (against Petersburg PORTA in the Class 2A regional championship game)," he said. "I remember it, because he ripped (his jersey), and we had to buy a new one."
Meyer hoped the play made an impression on the rest of the team as well.
"Guys saw him get on the floor and get after it," he said. "Now they know he can do it, and they expect it."
Aurora Christian missed 14 of 17 shots from 3-point range in that game, and Eagles coach Dan Beebe contributed much of that to Ray.
"(QND is) long on top," he said. "It makes it tough with No. 22 (Ray) out there."
Opponents have shot just 40 percent from the floor in the Raiders' last nine games, and the difficulty of shooting over Ray's long arms has made a significant difference.
Ray's offensive numbers aren't up to the pace he set last season as a junior. He shot 47 percent from the floor and averaged 10.2 points, and now he's averaging 9.6 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor.
Struggling with his shot hasn't keep Ray from contributing.
"I don't think we play (for the State Farm championship) if Tommy doesn't play well defensively," Meyer said. "I hear all kinds of people. ‘Oh my gosh, he's in a slump.' So many people were worried about him scoring, but I'm not.
"You go back a few weeks ago, and when he was struggling to shoot, he's out there chewing on his jersey and stewing over it, but there's not a bigger competitor out there. He's a bloodthirsty guy, and I knew he would figure it out."
Ray has made 9 of 20 shots in his last two games, averaging 13 points per game, and he finally found his stroke from 3-point range against Pittsfield, making 2 of 4 shots. He credited his recent success with a little extra work after practice.
"The freshmen were practicing one night, and I asked (freshman coach Ron) Kinscherf if it was all right if I practiced shooting on one end," Ray said. "I just got some shots up, and I've been noticing my right hand was doing most of the work. If I let my left hand guide the ball, it made a difference. Then (sophomore assistant coach Joe) Terwelp thought I was leaning back on my shots.
"I just had to put some work in. Once I saw some balls going into the net, that gave me a lot of confidence."
And if his shots don't fall, Ray still is a presence.
"I kind of pride myself on defense," he said. "I just try to guard and play hard."
QND has allowed just 45.9 points per game in its nine victories, and Meyer believes defense is this team's strength.
"We're finding our identity," he said. "The way they have bonded and come together, it's making a difference."
Even if you're in a shooting slump.