MATTOON — Senior night and a chance at a milestone began with dimmed lights, glow sticks, a mosh pit of a student section, thumping speakers and one loose, energized team fresh off a strong practice and a team dinner at Villa Pizza the day before.
“We all came in really confident,” senior guard Jake Ghere said.
Grant Coleman and the Mahomet-Seymour Bulldogs, though, rolled up like cops at a rager and busted up the festivities. They squashed the early vibes from Mattoon’s 10 points in the opening five minutes. They left Mattoon with a 69-53 win, denying the Green Wave their first 20-win season since 1990. The pursuit of it will wait until regionals.
Coleman, a skilled forward with perimeter and interior abilities, was too much for Mattoon (19-9, 7-5 Apollo) to handle. He shot 3-pointers, drove, scored in transition, posted and on the other end, clogged driving lanes that initially enticed Mattoon’s guards. Mahomet-Seymour (13-16, 5-7) stuck him in the middle of Mattoon’s zone and fed him the ball.
“A 6-foot-7 guard, basically,” Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere said. “We put a big on him, and he beats him on the dribble or runs off a screen. We put a guard on him, and he goes for a lob. He’s just a hard kid to guard.”
Nothing quite looked in sync for Mattoon. Many of its shots came on guarded jumpers. Mahomet-Seymour rarely needed to send a help defender on Mattoon’s drives, allowing the Bulldogs to stick onto shooters.
“Fifty-three points, we usually score way more than that,” Ghere said. “And I felt we had to work for every one of those.”
Turnovers and Mahomet-Seymour’s offensive rebounds weighed down the chances to make a run. At one point, Jadyn Princko fired a jump pass toward Alex Yardley in the paint, but Yardley had turned around to box out, thinking Princko was shooting a 3-pointer. The pass bounced out of bounds, and the pair jogged down the court, confused. It about summed up the night.
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Coleman scored 15 of Mahomet-Seymour’s first 17 points of the second half. His alley-oop 3-point play gave the Bulldogs a 44-31 lead with 57 seconds left in the third quarter. No one seemed particularly capable of guarding him, a problem many of his challengers have encountered.
“Anytime they needed a basket, they went to him,” Ghere said.
Any thought of a Mattoon surge was momentary and came late in the third quarter. Princko drew a foul and Dalton Compton followed with a 3-pointer, both in the final minute. Their 5-0 spurt ended the quarter within Mattoon trailing by 8 points.
The problem, though, was that Coleman never slowed down enough for Mattoon to come any closer. Not even on an inbound play where Compton blanketed him. He reached up for an inbound pass on the block and scored to put Mahomet-Seymour up 50-38 with 4:41 remaining. Then, for his finale, he met Princko in the lane, drew a foul, made a layup and the ensuing free throw. It gave the Bulldogs an 11-point edge with less than three minutes to go.
“Just couldn’t get over the hump,” Ghere said. “It just stayed between eight and 14 the whole third and fourth quarter.”
Sam Bradbury helped Mattoon keep pace for two-plus quarters. A usual starter, he came off the bench because Ghere started little-used senior forwards Travis Bailey and Connor Barnes in their final home game. He entered with 1:39 left in the first quarter, amassed nine points by halftime and ended with a team-high 13. Princko found him on a pick-and-roll for a layup that became a 3-point play, which gave Mattoon a 22-20 lead with 5:14 to go in the second quarter. It turned out to be the Green Wave’s last lead.
Bailey and Barnes ensured their cameos were productive at first. Barnes won the opening tip, and Bailey scored on a post-up early in the first quarter. They entered again with 1:33 left in the game. Instead of capping a romp they envisioned, they played out the string before exiting to ovations in the final seconds.