Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.

Mattoon got bottlenecked by a taller opponent in Mt. Zion, straying from their usual inside-out game, losing 42-38 Friday night.

Mt. Zion goes to 7-5 (3-2 Apollo) while Mattoon goes to 4-6 (3-4 Apollo).

“They are huge,” Mattoon girls varsity head coach Troy Haacke said. “When watching film on them, you can tell they’re kind of big, but you don’t know how big they are. They’re big and we’re not. That gives us fits – their length, height, their rebounding ability, their ability to pass over the top of us.”

The Green Wave sank three from behind the arc with Lily Ghere, Ella Conyers, and Emily Maple helping them out to a 14-7 lead almost six minutes into the first quarter.

But then Mattoon couldn’t find its shot against a much taller team, scoring only 5 points the rest of the half.

“They’re playing good defense,” Haacke said. “That’s the most trouble we’ve had this year in running our stuff and getting open looks. We had a great first six minutes, I think we had three threes that first quarter. Then we struggled from there on out.”

Mt. Zion went on a 21-5 run, using their height and length to deny Mattoon scoring opportunities, after the Green Wave’s last first quarter bucket. 

“Our girls were trying to draw that foul but it just wasn’t called,” Haacke said. “It was just their height. I told the girls when they raise their arms they’re taller than I am, eight-plus feet in the air. It’s very difficult being 5’3”.

Mattoon didn’t create enough ball movement from their inside-out play style which would have opened up a shooter.

Mattoon’s Emily Maple, who led the Green Wave with 14 points, felt they could’ve made better shot selection decisions.

“I think if our shots would have fallen it would have been a different story,” she said. “We were shooting in the paint with three six-foot girls there probably wasn’t the best decision. But tonight, if our threes would have fallen it would been a different story for the game.”

Haacke concurred.

“We probably took shots that we shouldn’t have taken instead of getting to the paint and ‘Hey there’s a six-foot girl here, maybe I should dribble it out’.”

Haacke said at they talked about shot selection and stayed focused at halftime.

“We can come back from anything,” he said. “We run the floor, we can knock down shots.”

And they almost did.

Down 11 with just 46 seconds remaining, Lily Ghere hit a three. Maple hit a bucket after an Anderson free throw, followed by another Ghere bucket with less than 5 seconds remaining. That would be the final bucket of the game.

Haacke said it wasn’t a moral victory.

“We felt like this was a game where we had an opportunity to win and if we could get open and knock some shots down we can turn them over,” he said.

“We had a game plan on Denver (Anderson),” Haacke said of the Mt. Zion player who led the game with 18 points and is closing in on 1000. “I wanted to throw something at her that she hadn’t seen yet and try to force her to get the ball out of her hands, and force the other girls to make shots that they weren’t normally comfortable making. That’s what they did to us. That was my thought process going into it.”

Haacke said he might have gone to a 1-2-2 sooner looking back on it.

“When we went to that 1-2-2 press late, I liked how it looked,” he said. “I saw them against Lincoln and really struggled against that against Lincoln. We really haven’t put it up like that and haven’t always been successful with it so I was cautious of doing that. It was in the back of my mind. I might have gone with it earlier to see if we could force them to play a little faster than what they wanted to play. 

In the end though, it comes down to Mattoon maintaining their bread and butter – the inside-out game which will open up outside shots.

“We just have to make better decisions about knowing we’re not going to get shots off down there to dribble back out or kick it out and play our game of inside out with 3s,” Haacke said.

MT. ZION – Kendall 0 3-4, 3, Barnes 3 0-0 6, Turner 7 1-2 15, Anderson 7 3-6 18. Three-pointers: Anderson 1. Totals: 17 7-12 42.

MATTOON – Ghere 3 0-0 8, Maple 5 3-5 14, Sanders 3 0-0 6, Conyers 3 0-0 8, Sewell 1 0-0 2. Three-pointers: Ghere 2, Maple 1, Conyers 2. Totals: 15 3-5 38.

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