By Mike Monahan
In a nearly empty gym Saturday, you could hear Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere at halftime in the balcony of the final Coles County Clash of the boys basketball season at Baker Gymnasium.
The reason: Ghere was not pleased with his team’s play in the first half, especially the way the half finished. Mattoon trailed 32-25 at the break but scored the first seven points after the break, all by Cooper Bergstrom, to tie the game.
“That was a great start for the second half,” said Ghere. “Cooper Bergstrom coming out with the two-man game with Sam Bradbury. That (the first seven points by Bergsrom) was big for us. I think that helped open up Cam (Thomas) and Malik (Carter-Smith) for the second half. I challenged them at halftime, and you have to give the boys credit. They responded and they came out and played a really good second half and they knocked down enough free throws.”
It was still anyone’s ballgame at the start of the final quarter when Mattoon led 44-43 in a game that already featured seven lead changes.
The Green Wave outscored Charleston 12-1 in the first 3 minutes, 40 seconds of the final quarter for the 63-54 victory.
Mattoon completed a season sweep of Charleston after having won 51-47 last Thursday.
“In the first half, we played well,” said Charleston coach Brad Oakley. “We moved the ball and things were kind of going our way. Bradbury was in foul trouble and we were able to get the ball inside and outside. We got some shots to go. In the second half, they went to the 1-2-2 zone and had three long athletic bodies out there on top which made a difference in how we moved the ball around trying to get the ball inside and outside. It didn’t work quite as well.”
The Green Wave defense helped as they played a 1-2-2 zone or a 3-2 and held Charleston to 7-of-22 (.318) shooting and outrebounded the Trojans 17-9.The defense caused Charleston to turn the ball over nine times in the second half, including seven in the fourth.
“We kept changing our defense,” said Ghere. “I think that kept them off balance. It is a matchup and it changes depending on what they are doing. What it does is have Jaylen (Middleton) on the free-throw line and that is where they beat us a lot when we played them the other day. We wanted Jaylen to take away the free-throw line and he did a good job of that. He has to make some reads on that and he did a really good job in the second half of reading that.”
Mattoon will travel to Taylorville on Monday, while Charleston will play host to Taylorville on Tuesday.
“I thought the big difference was we rebounded so much better in the second half than we did in the first half,” said Ghere. “We didn’t rebound at all in the first half, and we just looked lethargic.”
Carter Smith started the fourth quarter by making a 3-pointer and Jaylen Middleton along with Thomas drained two free throws apiece for a 51-43 lead. A putback by 6-foot-7 Sam Bradbury boosted the Green Wave’s lead to 10 points. A free throw by Charleston’s Cory Spour, a steal and layup by Thomas and one of two free throws by Middleton, Mattoon padded its lead to 12 points with just 2:11 remaining. Charleston didn’t get closer than eight points the rest of the way.
The Green Wave sank 22-of-27 (.815) free throws, including 10-of-14 (.714) in the final quarter.
“Getting to the free throw line 27 times, and I know a lot were late, but I know even through three quarters we were up on free throws from them (13-10),” Ghere said. “I think that is what this team can do. We can get to the basket and get fouled and that is kind of what we have struggled with in the past. We have always got outshot at the free throw line by our opponents. I think we are better at that this year.”
Charleston had two 10-0 runs in the first half, the second put them ahead after had trailed 25-22 with 2:31 left in the half when Spour and Applegate gave the Trojans a lead for the first time in more than four minutes. The combination worked again, including Applegate’s bucket with three seconds left. Jacksen Braun stole the ball and was fouled at the buzzer. He made one of two free throws as the Trojans went to the locker room with momentum and the largest lead of the half.
“Maybe we pressed a little bit as far as trying to do too much in the second half and things really start to snow ball against you,” Ghere said. “And we have to stay even keel when things are not going our way and just try and lift each other up and fight through it and continue to battle each possession because you never know how it can change. We kind of got a little frustrated and that didn’t help us in about a 4-5 minute stretch there.”
Three players finished in double digits for Mattoon (3-3): Thomas scored 21 points, Carter Smith and Bergstrom had 10.
Applegate led Charleston (2-4) with 20 points, including 10 in the second quarter. Braun was also in double figures with 13, including 10 in the first half.
“I am proud of the boys,” said Ghere. “They battled back this afternoon after digging themselves a hole again and found a way to win it.”
MATTOON: Bergstrom 3-3-4-10, 4-12-14-21, Carter Smith 5-0-0-13, Middleton 0-4-6-4, Grace 0-0-0-0, Farmer 2-0-0-6, Powers 0-0-0-0, Bradbury 3-3-3-9, Totals 17-22-27-63
CHARLESTON: Spour 3-2-5-8, Burgess 3-0-0-8, Applegate 8-0-0-20, Braun 4-3-6-13, Oakley 1-3-3-5, Bickford 0-0-0-0, Totals 19-8-14-54
3-point goals: Mattoon 7-22 (Bergstrom 1-4, Carter Smith 3-6, Thomas 1-4, Farmer 2-3, Middleton 0-5) Charleston 8-21 (Burgess 2-6, Applegate 4-7, Braun 2-5, Oakley 0-3). Rebounds: Mattoon 27 (Middelton 6), Charleston 29 (Spour, Braun 6). Turnovers: Mattoon 6, Charleston 12. Shooting percentages: Mattoon .395, Charleston .380.
Freshmen-sophomore: Charleston 49, Mattoon 42