Charleston will try to beat Mt. Zion for the third time this season – and the second time in 72 hours – when the teams face off in the Class 2A regional boys basketball tournament opener tonight at Mattoon High School.
The winner of tonight’s game advances to the regional semifinal against the region’s top-seeded Springfield Lanphier (22-9), which features five players scoring on average in double figures.
Trojans coach Brad Oakley says familiarity might be his least important concern in these kinds of late-season repeat games.
“It’s one of those things where teams are probably going to do what they’ve done for thirty games during the season,” Oakley said. “A lot of times, it comes down to who wants to play the game hard, who wants to do the little things to be successful. Sometimes, you get into a regional tournament and kids are ready to go on to a spring sport.”
Charleston (12-16) ended its regular season on a three-game winning streak, beating Paris, Rantoul and Mt. Zion by an average of 11 points. Mt Zion (6-25), meanwhile, has lost eight in a row since defeating Effingham on Jan. 31 for its only Apollo Conference win this season.
“I think the last five or six games – not all have been wins – but we’re playing our best basketball and moving the ball well,” Oakley said. “We shot the ball pretty well on Friday.”
Last Friday, Charleston’s Caleb Hurst scored 12 points during an explosive second quarter where he and his teammates hit five 3-pointers and outscored the Braves 27-4 for the 64-43 victory at Baker Gym. Isaac Miller (17), Sam Bickford (17) and Hurst (16) combined for 50 points.
Charleston also jumped ahead early in the first matchup Jan. 14, taking a 15-8 first-quarter lead that it built to 46-25 entering the final quarter. Miller scored a game-high 17 points, Bell contributed 10, and Hurst blocked six shots and added eight points in the 58-42 win.
“Part of the key (Monday night) might be the way we start the game,” Oakley said. “If we can come out and play well and get a lead, that enables us to win games. If we come out poorly in the first half, and Mt. Zion feels as if they’re part of the game – then we can be in for a long game.”
That first victory over Mt. Zion was the fifth in a six-game stretch that put the Trojans at 8-8 for the season.
Afterward, Charleston lost eight of its next nine games, including 20-point losses to Mattoon and Taylorville, a 55-point loss to Effingham and a 42-point loss to Lincoln.
But the Trojans played well in their final three games, which they have won by an average of 11 points.
Oakley, a veteran coach in his first season leading Charleston’s boys, says the streaks have not noticeably affected his players’ behavior.
“I’ve enjoyed being back coaching,” Oakley said. “The kids have been great. There have been some unexpected hang-ups with injuries, surgeries and illness that you can’t plan for. But the kids have handled these challenges as well as can be expected. They listen, they’re coachable. Whenever we’ve had some slides, the kids still came to practice and did all that we asked of them. As a coach, that’s all you can ask. The kids have made it an enjoyable return to coaching.”