Story and photos by Dominic Baima
Decatur Eisenhower scored a basket with 3.2 seconds left to eliminate host Mattoon, 51-49, in the Class 3A IHSA regional boys basketball tournament on Saturday afternoon.
The Green Wave were forced to play this opening-road regional game about 15 hours after having finished their regular-season finale against Charleston. That game had been postponed from Thursday when a storm dumped ice and snow across the region.
Senior Jaylen Middleton had nailed a 3-pointer with 1:03 left to tie the score at 49.
But Eisenhower then successfully ran down the clock before junior Aaron Dabner scored under the basket with 3.2 seconds left. The Panthers then stole the ball during the inbounds pass to clinch the victory.
“We’ve had the same game eight games in a row, it seems like,” said Mattoon coach Ryan Ghere. “We play hard, fall behind, battle back and just can’t over the hump at the end.”
Eisenhower had held a nine-point lead earlier in the quarter before Mattoon (14-18) scored three straight times to rally and tie the score.
The Panthers had padded their three-point halftime lead by outscoring the Green Wave 13-7 to go ahead 40-32 entering the final quarter.
“We played three really good quarters today,” Ghere said. “The third quarter we struggled. The kids battled and competed and played hard. Just wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”
Eisenhower got out to an early lead with a quick two-point jumper, but Mattoon Junior Christian Larson quickly answered with a 3-pointer to put the Green Wave up 3-2.
Junior Blaine Powers would score twice to extend that lead to 7-2 before Eisenhower would go on a scoring drive to tie the game up 8-8. After a back and forth the quarter would end with the teams tied at 11-11.
Both teams struggled to connect under the basket because of strong defensive play.
Senior Sam Bradbury scored and drew a foul to put the Green Wave up 14-13 in the second quarter before Eisenhower scored eight in a row. Back-to-back jumpers by Mattoon senior Cooper Bergstrom late in the second quarter would tie the game at 21-21 with 1:30 left in the quarter.
Powers made a 3-pointer to put Mattoon up 24-23 before Eisenhower scored the final four points before the half.
Larson and Bradbury would score early in the third quarter to tie the score at 30 before Eisenhower moved ahead in the third quarter.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by junior Taeriek Grace and Bergstrom would pull the Green Wave to within five points in the fourth quarter.
Eisenhower answered with back-to-back shots in the paint for the nine-point lead. Mattoon then made its final charge to tie the score at 49.
“It’s always tough to lose,”Ghere said. “You lose your last one and say goodbye to your seniors. We had four really good ones here. Sam, Jaylen, Cooper and Gage have been great leaders for us and great role models for our younger kids, we’re going to miss those four kids in our program.”
Find additional photos from this game here.
Mattoon: Bergstrom 3 0-1 9, Middleton 3 0-0 9, Powers 2 102 9, Larson 1 2-2 7, Grace 1 1-2 6, Bradbury 3 4-5 10. 3-pointers – Bergstrom 1, Middleton 1, Powers 1, Larson 1, Grace 1.