MATTOON — After a tough 62-46 loss to Lincoln last Tuesday, Mattoon used a strong first half and pulled away in the fourth quarter to top Mount Zion 69-49. The Green Wave scored 8 of the first 10 points in Friday's Apollo Conference boys basketball game and never trailed in the game.
"I thought the first half we played really well," said Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere, whose team improved to 2-0 at home. "We took care of the basketball and made shots."
Mattoon started out on fire from 3-point range against the Braves' man-to-man defense as they hit 5 of 8 in the first 5:10, including three by Jaydn Princko. His 3-pointer with 2:50 left put the Green Wave up 17-6. Mount Zion's Braden Highley ended Mattoon's 12-0 run with a basket.
The Braves, who fell to 0-6 overall and 0-2 in the conference, had an 8-0 run to cut the lead down to four on a hook shot by sophomore Drew London. That made it 18-14, Mattoon. The three-ball helped the Green Wave build the lead back up as Jacob Spitz and Jaydon Noe hit back-to-back 3-pointers. Spitz hit another one of his five 3-pointers (he was 5-of-8) for a 27-16 advantage. It was 31-20 when Mattoon scored 11 of the next 14 points to take a 42-23 lead. Dalton Compton, Spitz and Meade Johnson all hit 3-pointers during the run. The Green Wave sank 11-of-20 3-pointers in the opening half, one that they led 42-25.
"The third quarter wasn't so pretty," said Ghere. "We didn't take care of the basketball and didn't play very good defense and we let them back in it. In the fourth quarter, we found a way and we did a nice job of knocking down our shot and making free throws at the end to win by 20."
At halftime, Ghere talked about coming out strong and winning the first four minutes.
Mount Zion didn't let the Green Wave lead get bigger than 19 points in the third quarter, trailing 52-33 with 1:58 left. The Braves trailed just 52-41 after three quarters and just 55-43 with 6:52 left in the game when Mattoon went on a 10-4 run to pull away.
"Mount Zion plays hard, and the coach (Bryon Graven) is a good coach and he is going to have them ready for the game. They could have easily folded up at halftime. That is what we talked about at half was to come out in the first four minutes and put the game away and we didn't do that. That is disappointing with a veteran ball club like we have, but we stayed with it. I thought we looked a little tired. We were getting beat down the floor. I thought we got our second wind late."
Spitz finished with a team-high 23 points, which is also his season-high.
"I thought Jacob had a nice game," said Ghere." He played a different position. He played a four spot and that is what Jake (Ghere) normally plays. Jaydon Noe brings the ball up, but our four-man kind of directs the offense with our entry into our transition. Spitz did a nice job of playing out of position a little bit tonight. I thought our guards played really well the first half. We just keep working on getting an inside presence and we were a little bit better tonight. We have a ways to go. we have to get some pressure off our guards and get some inside play. Alex (Yardley) did a nice job of getting us some inside play in the second half, but we have to be more consistent."
Princko had 16 points for MHS, who shot 52 percent from the field.
Ghere was also happy with the play of Meade Johnson.
"Meade Johnson just keeps getting better every game," said Ghere. "You can tell he is a coach's kid." (Lake Land women's basketball coach Dave Johnson is his father.) "He knows the game and understands what he is supposed to do. Late in the game, he pulled the ball out when it needed to be pulled out and he took care of the ball. He did some things we needed to do.
We had some guys come off the bench with Jake (Ghere) being out tonight. Mason Wright gave us some huge minutes, and Yardley gave some great minutes in the second half. He got some big rebounds for us and played some better defense in the second half."
The Braves trailed just 52-41 after three quarters and just 55-43 with 6:52 left in the game when Mattoon went on a 10-4 run to pull away.
Mount Zion was led in scoring by sophomore Mekhi Adams with 10 points.
"Tuesday was a tough loss and our guys were pretty upset that we got beat," said Ghere. "What I talked about with the boys before the game is last year we lost a game and then strung two or three together. This year we have followed both losses with a win. It was a good bounce-back win."
Mattoon is off until they travel to Taylorville for another conference contest, while Mount Zion plays host to Champaign Centennial Saturday in a non-conference contest.
Junior varsity wins
Mattoon led 35-19 at the half and went on to win 73-40.
Sam Bradbury, a 6-5 freshman, led the way with 22 points, while 6-6 junior Alex Yardley had 11 and Kegan Kirts had 10 points.
Mattoon is 2-1.