Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski

Mattoon’s started out Saturday night as it had ended its Friday night loss to Teutopolis.

The Green Wave were playing complacently.

Effingham raced out to a 7-2 during the St. Anthony Turkey boys basketball tournament third-place game.

After a mandatory official timeout mid-quarter, Mattoon awakened from its slumber. The Green Wave went on a 10-4 run led by senior Cooper Bergstrom’s five points and ultimately defeated the Hearts, 54-40.

“We needed to relax and play,” Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere said. “We were getting hung up on the officiating, we were getting hung up on the physicality, and we weren’t moving the basketball and just playing one-on-one. We turned the ball over. We weren’t playing our game the first four minutes. Last year, I didn’t like those four-minute timeouts, but I kinda like them now. We’re definitely using them. We just said, ‘Calm down. You’ll be OK.’ ”

Mattoon, which had trouble getting the ball to senior 6-8 center Sam Bradbury, nailed four first-half 3-pointers – two by Bergrstrom and one apiece by Taerick Grace and Gage Thompson. The Green Wave took a 22-18 lead into the half buoyed by a Bradbury tip-in at the buzzer.

“That’s big-time,” Mattoon senior forward Jaylen Middleton. “When people shut Sam down, it opens up for me and other shooters. Today, we struggled in the first half. Thompson had a nice 3 that we all thought was an and-one. Cooper is never going to stop shooting the ball. That’s what we like. And they were able to knock them down.”

The teams traded 3-pointers in the third quarter as 18 of the 23 points were scored from behind the arc.

Ghere said players stepped up their perimeter shooting when Effingham concentrated on defending Bradbury.

“They were really concentrating on Sam inside so we kicked balls out and guys stepped up and knocked down some shots,” Ghere said. “When we do that and you have to guard us on the perimeter and then have to guard Sam, we’re going to be really good. That was the difference between the first and second half. We had a balanced attack in the second half.”

Any momentum the Hearts could have had with Bradbury going to the bench with four fouls late in the fourth quarter was eliminated when Grace came in and sank back-to-back basket that extended the Green Wave’s lead to 18 with just under two minutes to play.

“The biggest thing was when it was a 14-16 point game and they were scrambling and chasing us all over, Taerick made two layups on dishes from different guards and broke their half-court trap,” Ghere said. “I thought that kind of sealed the game.”

Middleton said although the team is happy starting the season 3-1, they aren’t satisfied because they felt they should have been playing in the championship game.

“Who’s not going to be happy being 3-1?” Middleston said. “We wanted to be playing in this game (championship game) right now. Everybody is happy. What I like better with this group is that the last few years we would’ve been happy and cool to get on the bus. But now with this group here we sat in the locker room and said we’ll see T-town in the winter tournament. That’s what we want. We would be 4-0 leaving, but we’ll take 3-1 as well.”

Middleton said they felt they were better than most of the teams in the tournament.

“We knew coming in that we were a lot better than some of these teams we were playing or capable of doing, and, after that loss yesterday to T-town, in our mind we thought we should be playing in this game (championship game) not the game before,” he said. “We had to keep that constant reminder; the bench kept us going.”

Middleton’s defense, especially in the first half with two blocks and six pass deflections leading to turnovers, was key to the Green Wave’s win.

“He only had three points, but he does so many things for you that aren’t in the scorebook,” Ghere said. “He had blocked shots, deflections, he rebounded. In the first half, he didn’t rebound very well. Second half, he was a man on the boards. Its nice because he’s so athletic he can bring the ball up and take some pressure off the guards. I thought he had a monster game.”

Middleton credits ‘win the quarter’ as the primary motivation for his defense.

“We – me, coach, and Coop – do a thing called ‘Win the Quarter’,” Middleton said. “We try to win each quarter. It starts on defense. We were all about defense. I’m so tall and lanky. I can get in the passing lanes and tip, when I get blocks, and send the ball down (court) somewhere out. That’s how we win. I try my best to play the best defense we can. When I’m lazy, they’re lazy. I was lazy a couple times tonight on a new defense we ran and they scored on, but I fixed that real quick.”

Ghere said the team played better than the night before against Teutopolis.

“The big thing for us is to win every quarter,” he said. “We won the first one 12-11, and then the next one something like 12-11. I thought we got better as the game went. We handled the ball better as the game went. We handled their press better. We got Sam and our big guys involved in the second half that we didn’t do in the first half.”

Ghere said he likes that the team isn’t satisified with a 3-1 record.

“This team wants to win,” Ghere said. “They want to compete. They want to play for trophies. I felt like last night they played well enough to win but just didn’t down the stretch make enough plays. I like this team. They’re not happy unless they win every game. They’re not happy unless they win every game by a lot of points. I think that mentality is going to be great going forward.”

Sam Bradbury (left) and Jaylen Middleton were each selected to the all-tourney team (Submitted Photo)

The 2021 St. Anthony Turkey Tournament all-tournament team: Mattoon’s Jaylen Middleton and Sam Bradbury, Robinson’s Noah Gilmore, St. Anthony’s Craig Croy, Effingham’s Garrett Wolfe, Breese Central’s Luke Stubhart and Brady Moore, Highland’s Jake Ottenmeier, Teutopolis’ Caleb Siemer. Teutopolis’ Brendan Niebrugge was named the tournament’s MVP.


MATTOON – Bergstrom 4 5-6 15, Middleton 1 0-0 3, Powers 1 3-4 6, Larson 1 4-4 6, Thompson 3 1-2 9, Grace 3 0-0 7, Bradbury 3 2-3 8. Totals 16 15-19 54. 3-pointers: Bergstrom 2, Middleton 1, Powers 1, Thompson 2, Grace 1.

EFFINGHAM – Volpi 5 0-0 14, Wolfe 5 0-0 14, Ritz 0 1-2 1, Splechter 2 1-2 5, Pals 2 1-2 6. Totals: 14 3-6 40. 3-pointers: Volpi, 4, Wolfe 3.