MATTOON — After Mattoon’s junior varsity boys basketball team started the night with a win in overtime, the varsity had the pressure of following with a win, and they did.
The game ended as the two teams traded blows down the stretch, before Mattoon emerged victorious by a small margin of victory, 70-68.
If not for a 3-point shot by Mt. Zion’s Clayton Marquardt going into halftime, the Green Wave would have been tied with the Braves at 26 all at the half, and even at the end of the first quarter, Mattoon was only down four points, 15-11.
After the first time the teams met on Dec. 8, when Mt. Zion defeated Mattoon by a hefty 70-38 score, Mattoon was looking to get revenge Friday night.
Coming into the evening, Mattoon was on a six-game losing streak.
The fourth quarter decided the outcome of the game. Based on how both teams would score one after the other, it was anyone’s game.
That is, it was anyone's game until junior Jadyn Princko hit a 3-pointer with a minute left to give Mattoon a 68-66 lead. Throughout the season, he had been averaging 11.9 points per game, Mattoon’s leading scorer, but he scored well-above his season average Friday with 21 points.
The rest of Mattoon’s backcourt, juniors Jaydon Noe and Jacob Spitz, combined for 33 points, 17 and 16 respectively.
“They took care of the basketball tonight,” Mattoon head coach Ryan Ghere said. “And then they knocked down shots, which they’ve struggled with lately.”
The two teams came out in the first quarter with great speed on both sides of the court, which set the pace for the rest of the game, but Mattoon had a bit of a tough time finding the bottom of the net.
From that point on, though, Mattoon started to score and came back every time it was down.
Coming out of halftime, Mt. Zion seemed to take control of the game, taking a 41-34 lead with 4:43 left in the third quarter. Six of those points came from the Braves’ leading scorer, senior guard Jonah Smith, who averages 20.3 points per game and scored 28 Friday.
“We wanted to contain Smith, he had 28, so I guess that’s containing him,” Ghere said.
But just under a minute later, Spitz made a 3-point play off a drive to the basket and a free throw, cutting the deficit to 4 points. Two of Mt. Zion’s other leading scorers, senior Trevor Durand and Marquardt, also a senior, made some shots to add to their team’s score, while Princko made two 3s to keep Mattoon in the game.
Trailing 49-53 at the start of the fourth, Mattoon slowly cut away its deficit.
But it was not until the 5:41 mark when Spitz made both free throws after being fouled that Mattoon took a 58-57 lead, its first lead since the 2:20 mark in the second quarter.
Durand and Smith would make shots to give Mt. Zion the lead again, 62-58, with 5:15 left. But Mattoon took the lead again a minute and a half later, after Spits and junior Jacob Ghere scored, 64-62.
Mattoon never surrendered the lead after that, and Noe would make two free throws to secure a Mattoon win with nine seconds left. Mt. Zion scored one more basket with one second left, but Mattoon prevented the comeback after the inbounds pass.
“It was a good game, and the kids battled,” Ghere said.
The JV team defeated Mt. Zion in overtime, after the fourth quarter ended in a 63-63 tie. Freshman Meade Johnson led the team with 17 points.