RANTOUL – They usually practice the play with five seconds on the clock.
Here was Mattoon, though, trailing by a point on the road and forced to travel the length of the court in half the time it usually allots for its end-of-game plays. Good thing for the Green Wave that Ryan Ghere has the team practice these situations each day and everyone knew the play to use.
“We call it AT&T,” Ghere said. “Because it’s long-distance.”
Turns out, the Rantoul Township High School gym had five bars of cell reception and doesn’t charge for long-distance calls. And 2.7 seconds was just enough time.
Meade Johnson inbounded to Jaydon Noe, who came off a screen near half-court to get open and embark on a mad dash with the ball up the court. He found Dalton Compton in the corner, all alone. Compton set his feet, caught Noe’s pass and drilled a corner 3-pointer for the win.
It was Mattoon’s first bucket in two and a half minutes and Compton’s only field goal of the game.
“I was a little nervous at first,” Compton said. “But we work on that play every day, so you get used to it.”
Compton’s shot allowed Mattoon (11-5, 5-2 Apollo) to squeak out a 59-57 non-conference win over Rantoul Friday night after letting a 47-34 third-quarter lead slip away. After operating on cruise control through three quarters, Mattoon’s offense was a sudden mess of turnovers and low-percentage shots that led to transition run-outs and easy baskets for Rantoul.
“I don’t think our shot selection in the fourth quarter was very good, but I hate to reign them back in because they think they’re going to make every shot they take,” Ghere said. “But you hate to take that away from them because these guys are just so confident.”
For a minute, Mattoon looked like it had Rantoul defended well on the Eagles’ final possession. Sam Bradbury held ground in the post and forced a pass out. Mattoon double-teamed the ball after it was kicked out, but it found its way under the basket to an open Angelo Brown, who laid it in for a 57-56 lead with eight seconds left.
“Just a lack of communication,” Ghere said.
Rantoul narrowed the 13-point Mattoon advantage to 47-46 early in the fourth with a 12-0 run. A Noe layup put an end to that. Later, with 4:41 left in the game, freshman forward Jimmy Nixon went to the foul line with a chance to tie the score at 49. He made the first free throw and missed the second, and while Rantoul corralled the misfire, its possession ended on a missed corner 3-pointer.
Noe, again, was Mattoon’s answer. Isolated on the right wing, he jab-stepped and dribbled past a defender for a layup on the ensuing possession to give Mattoon a 51-48 lead. Jadyn Princko followed with a put-back layup, and Jacob Spitz a 3-pointer.
Then the scoring drought set it. Prior to Brown’s layup, Rantoul had several chances to take the lead. The best one came with one minute left, trailing 56-55, when Hayden Cargo received a screen that snagged his defender and freed him for an open corner 3. His shot hit the back rim.
Rantoul used a full-court press right from the start of the game and forced a 10-second violation on the second possession. After that, though, Mattoon dictated its pace on offense and had little trouble breaking the press. The Green Wave overcame a 14-12 deficit at the end of the first quarter and kept the Eagles at arm’s length until the final minutes.
Mattoon, in its 2-3 zone defense, largely kept Rantoul’s guards in front and sealed driving lanes for the first three quarters. Rantoul’s open looks came on jumpers in gaps, post touches or in transition. Noe and Princko created several transition chances with steals and rebounds that led to easy baskets. Late in the game, though, Rantoul found holes in it.
“We didn’t rebound very well and didn’t take care of the ball,” Ghere said. “Those are the two things that have hurt us the last two games. But I told them after the game good teams find a way to win, and we did. It wasn’t pretty, but we’ll walk off with the win.”
Princko led all scorers with 23 points. Noe added 13, and Spitz 10. Cargo led Rantoul with 13.
The game had to be moved up from 7:30 to 6 p.m. with a snowstorm barreling down on central Illinois. The JV game between the two schools, as a result, was canceled.