Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
Christian Larson’s gritty baseline play and Andrew Wetzel’s sharpshooting in the fourth quarter weren’t enough for Mattoon to overcome a poor first-quarter start as Pana defeated the Green Wave 67-53 Tuesday night.
“You can’t spot a good Pana team like that 14 points in the first quarter,” Larson said. “Definitely, had a run there late in the game, but you can’t get behind like that to a great team.”
The Green Wave’s first-quarter struggles continue without senior center Sam Bradbury.
“We’re going to have figure some things out,” Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere said. “They just outplayed us. They played harder. They deserved to win. Early in the game, they beat us on the floor and we didn’t get back on defense and didn’t do any transition defense. I thought we figured that out after the first quarter and did better with that, but you can’t spot a team like that 14 points.”
Pana’s Devon Peebles and Brenden Schoonover combined for 13 of the Panthers’ 15 first-quarter points. Schoonover led all scorers with 22 points. Peebles followed with 16. While the Green Wave dug back to finish the quarter 15-8, Pana (12-1) had built back its lead to 15 at halftime.
“We’re definintely missing Sam a lot,” Larson said. “We’re kind of in a rough stretch here. Luckily, we’re getting a couple definite winnable games here. We’ll get out of this funk soon. I’m excited to see what the rest of the season holds for us.”
Mattoon missed Bradbury most on the defensive end where Pana consistently garnered second-chance points off rebounds.
“No sugar coating it, we got outrebounded,” Larson said. “Just missing Sam, a couple of us needed to step up tonight and it didn’t happen. A lot to learn from this game.”
Ghere said Bradbury’s absence is noticeable.
“He does a lot for us and people are seeing what he’s done for us the last three years,” he said. “We’re going to figure it out. No other team is going to feel sorry for us. They’re all going to come and exploit us for what we’re missing and we have to figure out a way to overcome this.”
Larson and Wetzel led the Green Wave, now 7-7 overall, with 12 points each.
“Christian is a hardnosed kid,” Ghere said. “He’s a tough kid. He fights and scraps and has to work for everything he gets. He’s not going to outjump many people but he’s going to outwork them. That’s a good attribute for him to have.”
Wetzel, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, came off the bench and hit 3-pointers on four consecutive Mattoon possessions to cut into Pana’s lead, which reached 21 points midway through the fourth quarter.
“We hope that continues,” Ghere said. “Everybody is going to know about him by Friday. There’s no secrets about basketball with all the film that gets swapped around. He’s gives us another weapon coming on. Hopefully, he can continue that. He does that every day in practice.”
Ghere said he credits his players for not giving up.
“I’ll give our guys credit though, they fought and battled,” he said. “We competed and never gave up. Maybe knocking down those 3s late will give us some confidence for Friday. We just have to play harder and smarter. We keep making the same mistakes game after game. We turn the ball over and not get back on defense. We have to fix those little things that we aren’t taking care of.”
But it’s evident the team sorely misses their big man. Will he be back for Friday’s conference game against county rivals, Charleston?
“I have no idea,” Ghere said. “It’s still day-to-day.”
PANA – Schmitz 5 0-0 12, Lynch 2 0-0 5, Kuhn 3 0-1 6, Peebles 6 2-2 16, Hackler 2 0-0 4, Hudlin 1 0-0 2 Totals 29 3-5 67. 3-pointers: Schmitz 2, Lynch 1, Schoonover 1, Peebles 2.
MATTOON – Bergstrom 2 0-0 5, Middleton 3 3-3 10, Powers 4 0-0 9, Larson 5 0-0 12, Grace 2 0-0 5, Wetzel 4 0-0 12. Totals: 20 3-3 53. 3-pointers: Bergstrom 1, Middleton 1, Powers 1, Larson 2, Grace 1, Wetzel 4.