Story and photo by Mike Monahan
Charleston has played three boys basketball games the past 11 months – all against Mt. Zion.
Last Feb. 28, the Braves beat the Trojans 64-43 in the last home game of the season. Mount Zion then won a rematch a week later in the Class 3A Mattoon Regional, 68-45.
On Friday, Charleston was able to turn it around.
A 16-2 run in the first half coupled with good shooting for the entire game lifted the Trojans past the Braves, 65-48, in the Baker gym – the sixth year the Trojans have won their season-opener.
“The biggest thing for us if we share the ball we have got some guys that can knock down some shots,” said Charleston coach Brad Oakley. “We just have to trust each other, get some ball movement, reverse it and give our shooters a chance to get their feet set and get ready to knock it down. where we get in trouble is where we just try and play one-on-one and do it on our own. I thought, for the most part tonight, we really did a great job of playing team basketball and playing unselfish. And when you do that you give yourselves a chance to win some games.”
Sam Bickford hit the first basket of the game on a 3-pointer, followed by a steal and layup by Cory Spour. After a Mt. Zion free throw, Jacksen Braun nailed another 3-pointer for an 8-1 lead.
“Getting an early lead like that always helps for some confidence,” said Oakley. “Especially in the first game. The stuff we have been working on with the few practices we had you are kind of limited on what you can get in. It is always good to come out and have some success because then the kids maybe believe a little bit more in what you are trying to do and they see some positive gains out of it.”
Mount Zion struggled from the field early, making just 1-of-12 (.083) shots in the opening 10 minutes, 15 seconds despite having several opportunities within five feet of the basket. Free throws kept the Braves within four late in the first quarter.
Charleston built an 11-point lead on three separate occasions, including leading 22-11 after a basket by William Applegate. A 3-pointer by Dylan Roberts narrowed the score to 22-15 score with 3:21 left in the half.
“We got good shots, we just didn’t make them in the first half,” said Mt. Zion coach Dale Schuring. “I felt like we should have been ahead at halftime and at most maybe down five depending on what percentage of those short shots we should make. We just shot the ball horrible in the first half plain and simple.”
That is when the play of Bickford and Braun sparked the Trojans. The two combined for 13 of the next 16 point, extending CHS’s lead to 21 early in the second half.
“What they hurt us on in the first half was something we just have not had a chance to work on defensively in practice (8) to where we could cover the post players,” said Schuring. “Those two post players were just hitting shots.”
Charleston’s Caleb Oakley’s 3-pointer gave the Trojans a 34-17 lead at the half, one that saw CHS go 5-of-9 on three-pointers and 13-of-24 (.542), while holding the Braves to 5-of-24 (.208) shooting, including 1-of-8 (.125) form three-point range.
Charleston was buoyed by the play of two 6-foot-4 players. Bickford, a senior, and Braun, a junior, scored 24 and 21 points, respectively Braun was one rebound away from a double-double as he led the team with nine rebounds. Spout also facilitated the offense well at point guard.
“I felt like in the second half Spour played as well as I have ever seen him as a point guard,” said Oakley. “Maybe not with getting a lot of points, but he was setting his teammates up. He was getting us in the right spots to where we could be successful. There were three straight possessions where had three assists on some baskets, which is huge. Cory is that kid that can make the game easier for the other four guys out there on the floor. He has some quickness, he has some aggressiveness, he has good vision whenever he finds those guys if they cut and get to the right spots, he is going to find them and we are going to get some easier looks.”
It looked like the Trojans would coast to a victory when a 3-pointer by Bickford gave CHS the largest lead of the game, 47-23, with 4:29 left in the third quarter.
But Mount Zion started a 15-3 run on a 3-pointer by Roberts. Ethan Hamrick’s bucket made it 47-29. Charleston’s Jackson Burgess converted a three-point play and the scoring in the quarter ended on a 3-pointer by Roberts, making it 50-36 heading into the fourth.
Charleston’s lead narrowed to 12 four times in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, but the Braves never got closer.
“I know with coach Shuring his team is not going to quit,” said Oakley. “They are going to be aggressive and they are going to come after you. We had that 24 point lead and they got aggressive and we kind of let that bother us, me as well instead of just coaching through it and getting the kids in the right spots to be successful and take advantage of what they were trying to do. We had that lull in the third quarter, but I thought we came back together really well and finished strong. We ended up increasing the lead at the end, which was a positive.”
Schuring said they played much better than Tuesday in a loss to Teutopolis, 76-43.
“We are getting better and we are learning things as we go and I think they are playing hard,” said Schuring. “As long as we are playing hard and improving we are on an upwards trajectory and like I told the players ‘the wins will come if we do those two things’. We played a ton better in the second half.”
Roberts led Mount Zion with 16 points, while Hamrick had 11 and John Baumann led the team in rebounds with five.
“Jacksen Braun really stepped up big,” said Oakley. He really played well and hit some shots (plus, only dunk of the game). If we run the offense, he is going to get some good looks and he is pretty good off the bounce hitting some shots. He is a good shooter, and he can catch and shoot as well. It makes it a little harder on his defender because he can do a little bit of everything. He has gotten stronger over the offseason. He has really put in some time, and I think he is hopefully ready for a big year.”
Braun made seven of his eight shots from the field, including both 3-point attempts.
“The win gives you some confidence, getting a win in that first game, kids feel good about themselves and what we are trying to do and now hopefully we can continue to improve on what we did and get a little better each and every day,” said Oakley.
Charleston plays host to Mahomet-Seymour today at 3 p.m. in another Apollo Conference game, while Mount Zion plays host to Mahomet-Seymour on Tuesday.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Charleston trailed just 16-12 after the opening quarter, but were outscored 19-5 in the second quarter as Mount Zion won 67-40. Adam Rudibaugh led the Trojans with 16 points, while Grady Smitley was also in double figures with 13 points.
MOUNT ZION: DiTommaso 0-0-0; Gilman 1-0-2; High 2-2-6; Roberts 4-4-16; Adams 3-3-9; Hamrick 4-3-11; R. McNeill 1-0-2; Baumann 0-0-0; M. McNeill 1-0-2; Totals 16-12-48
CHARLESTON: Burgess 3-1-8; Braun 7-5-21; Applegate 2-0-5; Spour 2-0-4; Bickford 8-4-24; Oakley 1-0-3; Totals 23-10-65
3-point goals: Mount Zion 4-15 (Roberts 4-5, DiTommaso 0-4, Hamrick 0-4, M. McNeill 0-2), Charleston 8-20 (Bruress 0-1, Braun 2-2, Applegate 2-4, Sour 0-1, Bickford 3-9, Oakley 1-3). Rebounds: Mount Zion 20 (Baumann 5), Charleston 33 (Braun 9). Turnovers: Mount Zion 15, Charleston 15. Shooting percentages: Mount Zion .364, Charleston .511.
CHARLESTON: Spoonhour 0-0-0; Dunklin 0-0-0; Smitley 4-1-13; Drake 0-0-0; LeBron 0-0-0; B. Spour 0-0-0; Barber 1-2-4; Rudibaugh 7-1-16; Landrus 3–0-6; Pounds 0-0-0; Misner 0-1-1; Triplett 0-0-0; Totals 15-5-40
3-point goals: Charleston 5 (Smitley 4, Rudibaugh 1)