Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.

Mattoon looked to expand its play set Wednesday against Highland after realizing they had been running the same three plays during a loss to Rantoul.

That didn’t work so well Wednesday night.

The Green Wave relied on the same three plays while scoring only two points in the third quarter during a 55-28 loss to Bulldogs.

“We kept running the same three plays, and they learned them the other day,” Mattoon’s Taerick Grace said. “We didn’t switch it up. They wanted it more than us tonight. We didn’t hustle as much as we normally do. We didn’t play a hard, fast game. They just outhustled us.”

The Green Wave kept pace with the bulkier Bulldogs in the first half by playing physical defense and denying second-chance opportunities. The teams appeared set to enter the break with a three-point spread, but Highland’s Cade Altadonna made a 3-pointer after collecting a ball that Mattoon’s Jace Gardner had briefly knocked away.

Highland stormed out of the halftime break on a 5-0 run before Gardner hit a layup that made it 32-23 with 5:54 left in the quarter. Highland responded with a 9-0 run that put them ahead by 20 entering the final quarter.

“It was mentality a little bit,” Mattoon coach Brandon Jones said. “Part of it was we were gassed, the other part of it was that 3 at the end that messed us up a little bit with momentum.”

“They started losing confidence in themselves. We came out in the third quarter and I don’t know how many 3s we shot, but I know probably about 75 percent of them had to be airballs.”

Mattoon settled for low-percentage shots from the perimeter that weren’t falling true, and players did not always make the extra pass into the post where Grace had success in drawing fouls.

“We have guys that can shoot,” he said. “They have confidence in their shot, but it wasn’t falling today. That’s when they have realize that they have to take it to the paint. We kept taking all those 3s and missing them.”

Grace said the team came out with energy they had wanted to carry into Friday’s game against Teutopolis.

“That’s what I was trying to tell them,” Jones said. “We got 40 (Joe Jansen) in foul trouble with two fouls, and I called a couple timeouts in the second half and said, ‘Hey, guys we need to get to the basket. We need to draw two, then pass it to an open guy.’ We have to give up and good shot to get a great shot. We’re going through growing pains right now, unfortunately.”

“I think we just lost our energy,” he said. “We had energy coming into the game. We thought this was a big game, and then go beat T-town the next one. We lost all that energy.”

Grace said Jones told the team after the game that they needed to learn the playbook.

“He said we needed to learn more plays and stop running the same ones,” Grace said. “We have so many plays set up, but we’re not going through them.”

“Like I told the guys: ‘Once our plays got out, they were going to get out,’” Jones said. “We just couldn’t run the same three. We had success with them against Rantoul.”

Mattoon faces Teutopolis on Friday. It could be more of the same if the Green Wave don’t take care of the ball and choose better shots.

“We want to play T-town but we have to take care of the ball,” Jones said. “That’s a well-coached team with five guys on the floor that play hard all the time. If we turn the ball over, we’re going to find ourselves in the same spot we did tonight. If we take care of the ball and do what we’re supposed to do then it’ll look like the first half of this game.”

Jones says the team, adjusting from having lost several key players, is still trying to find its way.

“All summer I’ve been waiting for someone to step up and take that leadership role,” he said. “It’s something we really have had yet. Maybe one of my seniors and Taeriek can get together and do that. Right now, my junior and senior class don’t seem to be bonding the way I hoped they would. Hopefully, we can get on the same page. Right now, it’s about team building. I have to get them out in Thanksgiving break and see if we can do some things together and get on the same page.’

Can the team learn more plays before Friday?

“That’s the hard part,” Jones said. “They’ve had the all the plays for the last month and a half. It’s going to be mentality at this point. Are we going to settle for being OK and losing by 20 and 30 in games or are we going to come out and get it?”

Mattoon12925 – 28
Highland11161612 –55

MATTOON: Powers 3 0-0 8, Boyer 0 0-2 0, Gardner 1 0-0 2, Rice 1 0-0 3, Larson 2 0-0 5, Grace 2 3-8 7, Smith 1 0-0 3. Totals: 10 3-10 28 3-pointers: Power 2, Rice 1, Larson 1, Smith 1.

HIGHLAND: Decker 0 2-2 2, Ottensmeier 7 0-0 17, Stone 0 2-2 2, Altadonna 3 0-0 8, Gelly 3 0-0 8, Fleming 3 0-0 6, Walker 1 0-0 2, Jansen 4 1-2 9, Mackey 0 1-2 1. Totals: 21 6-8 55. 3-pointers: Ottensmeier 3, Altadonna 2, Gelly 2.