Getting Sam Bradbury back was a huge bonus, but the team had to find its identity without the All-Apollo center. Bradbury continues to heal and work his way back into the lineup. With this momentum, the Green Wave take on Taylorville in a pivotal Apollo Conference matchup. 

Here is tonight’s preview:

Team Records: Mattoon (12-9, 3-3) @ Taylorville (10-9, 2-4)

Where: Taylorville High School

Tickets: Tickets can be purchased at Dolph Stanley Gym

School Size: Mattoon (926), Taylorville (757)

JV Tip-Off: 6 p.m.

Varsity Tip-Off: 7:30 p.m.

Opponent’s History: Dolph Stanley is the legendary coach from Taylorville’s earlier days. Stanley coached the Tornadoes to a state championship in 1945. After enduring numerous losing seasons since then, the team has turned a corner the last decade. That started with Hall of Fame coach Carey McVickers, leading the team to their last Regional Championship in 2013. McVickers retired in 2015 and former Mount Zion head coach Ryan Brown stepped in. Prior to the season, Brown was 100-75 at Taylorville. In three seasons at Mount Zion, Brown was 53-36. Overall, Brown is 163-120 and led Taylorville to its best finish since 1951-1952 with a 26-7 season in 2018-2019. 

Taylorville’s Past Results: Taylorville lost to Pana at the Litchfield Tournament, 58-46, but then rattled off two wins over Civic Memorial and Hillsboro. After starting the season 3-8, the Tornadoes have won seven of their last eight games, which also includes wins over Rantoul. Rochester, Effingham, Cerro Gordo, and Litchfield. 

“I think our season has been going really well,” said Brown. “We aren’t lucky to be very talented but we’ll put five young men on the floor that will play their tails off and if we get enough stops. We can win games maybe we aren’t supposed to win.”

Taylorville’s Top Players: Bryce Friedrich averages 13.9 points and leads the team with 8.0 rebounds per game. Will Bitschenaur adds 13.0 points per game.

Taylorville’s Team Stats:  The Tornadoes are averaging 48.6 points per game and allowing 45.8 points. 

Mattoon’s Past Results: Mattoon is playing some of its best basketball right now. Mattoon capped off a 4-0 appearance at the Litchfield Tournament with a win over state-ranked Pana, who was 19-1 before losing to the Green Wave. Mattoon defeated Father McGivney Catholic, Greenville, Gateway Legacy Christian, and then Pana 62-57 in the championship game. 

“We have had a great two weeks,” said MHS coach Ryan Ghere. “We have won six of our last seven and five in a row.  The Pana game was a great win.  They had won 19 games in a row.  We are playing really well right now.  We need to keep being unselfish and share the basketball.  

Mattoon’s Team Stats:  Mattoon is averaging 50.3 points per game and allowing 45.7 points per game. Bradbury has been working his way back from an injury that sidelined him for about three weeks. Ghere said that he likes what the other members of the team have done in his absence, including the rise of Tournament MVP Christian Larson. 

“It has helped to get Bradbury back for a few minutes per quarter,” said Ghere. “His time will increase as the season progresses.  Bergstrom and Powers are doing a great job of taking care of the basketball right now.  Middleton has really stepped up his defense, and Grace has improved every game over the past month.  Christian Larson had a great tournament and was the Tournament MVP.  He has become a weapon on the offensive end and continues to rebound very well.  Thompson, Helms, and Kirts have been great off of the bench.  We are really playing as a team right now.”

What Taylorville Said: “Mattoon is so tough for us to stop because of their balanced scoring attack,” said Brown. “Five different players are capable of leading Mattoon in scoring every night.  Nobody else in conference play has this much balance.  And now this hot 3-point shooting lately forces teams to spread out defensively, which will open up the paint as Bradbury starts playing more minutes.”

What Mattoon Said: “Taylorville continues to improve,” said Ghere. “They went 3-1 in the tournament and finished fifth with their only loss being Pana in pool play.  They have a great shooter in Will Bitschenauer, and Bryce Friedrich is a really good post player.  They will play hard on both ends of the floor and provide us with a real challenge on the road.  We need to continue to be unselfish on the offensive end of the floor, and keep playing defense like we have the last two weeks.  Taylorville is always a tough place to play.  We will need to take care of the ball and shoot well to win.”