That a team can miss its first four free throws and then make 10 of 12 in the second half …
or struggle for rebounds early and then completely dominate late …
or fall behind 11-3 right after the tipoff only to go on an 11-3 run in the final minutes …
or make 16-of-30 field goals in the final two quarters after hitting only 35 percent early is likely to be expected during a funky, abbreviated season where players had a week’s notice before the season began.
And so it was for Mattoon on Friday night.
Cam’Ron Thomas scored 21 of his game-high 27 points in a second half during which Mattoon picked up the pace on offense and applied more pressure on defense to secure a 69-58 victory over Mahomet-Seymour in an Apollo Conference boys basketball game.
“It is kind of like triage,” Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere said of the season’s challenges. “You talk as much as you can with the players and then they figure it out as best as they can.”
That Ghere switched up his defense by rotating man-to-man, zone and press schemes helped keep Mahomet off-balance.
As did Thomas.
The Green Wave, trailing by two points at halftime, outscored the Bulldogs 21-12 in the third quarter and 43-30 in the second half thanks in part to Thomas’ ability to drive the lane, hit runners and drop in a variety of jumpers.
The senior guard scored seven points in the first four minutes of the second half to give Mattoon a 37-32 lead, making a 3-pointer, a lay-in and two free throws. After hitting a baseline jumper and 12-footer to preserve the Green Wave’s five-point lead, he took a half-court pass from Jaylen Middleton that he quickly dished to Malik Carter Smith for a layup that padded MHS’s lead to 43-36.
“CamRon played like a man tonight,” Ghere said. “He got to the rim and hit some nice runners.”
Mahomet could never move closer than three points in the second half, perhaps too fatigued to keep up the pace.
“We thought at the end of the second quarter that they were tired,” Ghere said. “We wanted to make it into a track meet.”
Middleton dominated the boards, helping Mattoon snag 12 in the final quarter to Mahomet’s four. Middleton finished with 15 rebounds overall to go along with 14 points.
Middleton pushed the Green Wave’s lead to nine, 56-47, when he made a 3-pointer at the top of the key with about five minutes remaining in the game – a shot set up by Thomas, who snagged a rebound off his own errant floater in the paint.
Smith, who scored 14 points, also hit several key shots down the stretch, including a 3-pointer from the left corner that made it 65-56 with 1:43 remaining. Cooper Bergstrom converted two free throws 30 seconds later to cap an 11-3 run that made it 67-56 with 1:12 left.
“Malik and Cam are as good as anybody in the transition,” Ghere said.
Mahomet briefly challenged in the fourth quarter, scoring six straight points to close within 56-53 with 3:51 left. But Thomas once again took control, firing a putback, a running jumper and a short jumper near the baseline to make it 62-56.
Said Ghere: “The boys did a nice job tonight.”
MATTOON (69): Middleton 14, Smith 14, Bergstrom 6, Farmer 2, Bradbury 6, Thomas 27.