Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.

Mattoon faced a tall order against Lincoln Way East at the ninth annual Christmas Classic Wednesday afternoon.


The 2019 winners and last year’s runners-up, boast three starters taller than 6-foot-6 — with two more off the bench.

The Griffins used that height to their advantage in defeating the Green Wave, 86-51.

Mattoon faces Newton 9 a.m. Thursday at Effingham High School while Charleston plays Dixon at 10:30 a.m. at Teutopolis High School.

The Griffins had four players score in double figures led by George Bellevue (6-6) with 18 points and Kyle Olagbegi (6-8) with 16.

Matt Hudik was 5-for-8 from the arc following with 15 points. Tylon Tolliver had 14 points.

“I told the guys to come out and have fun,” Mattoon boys varsity head coach Brandon Jones said whose tallest player was Taerick Grace at 6-3.

“It’s a 3,000-student school. We just came out to play and do the best we could,” he said. “We wanted to try and front it and play some 2-3 which we haven’t done much this year at all. We knew it was going to be a battle.”

Lincoln Way East opened the first quarter with a 31-13 advantage on the backs of Olagbegi and Bellevue’s 10 points each.

Mattoon’s Andrew Wetzel led the Green Wave with 11 points, going 3-for-5 from beyond the 3-point line. Taerick Grace muscled his way to 11 points on 5-for-9 shooting.

“I think it was all heart by the guys,” Jones said. “They could’ve came out and laid down. We’ve put points up in the first half and that might be the most we’ve had at the half, honestly.”

Grace put the team on his back in the first quarter working his way around in the low post leading the team with six points.

“While the scoreboard wasn’t as close as we’d like, it helps us,” Jones said. “You start to see what your options – going backdoor, we learned that our transition defense isn’t all that great.”

Jones said Jace Gardner’s play stood out.

“He was great in transition,” Jones said. “His defense is always there. He had a big three-pointer for us, but he may average two or three shots a game.”

Playing a team of this caliber shows Mattoon where they’re at in team development.

“I think it opens our eyes a little to what we do and what we can do,” Jones said. “It shows us what we can’t do at the next level. It hurts a little bit because no one wants to lose by that much, but now we’re going to play a smaller school like us so that changes the demeanor of everyone coming into it.”

We started getting away from our sets a little bit and went to a continuity offense. We’re trying to find a good mix right now. Every day it seems like we have something new. Jack is out today. Tyriek was out. I was out. Carson was out. We’re just trying to get everybody to play together.

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MATTOON – Powers 1 0-0 2, Boyer 2 0-0 4, Smith 3 0-0 8, Kirts 1 0-0 2, Gardner 2 0-0 5, Wetzel 4 0-0 11, Larson 3 2-2 9, Grace 5 0-1 10. 3-pointers: Smith 2, Gardner 1, Wetzel 3, Larson 1. Totals: 21 2-3 51.

LINCOLN WAY EAST – Toliver 6 0-1 13, Ross 1 0-0 3, Sanders 2 0-04, Powell 3 0-0 7, Hudik 5 0-0 15, Lovell 2 0-0 4, Olagbegi 9 0-0 18, Hagenmaster 3 0-0 6. 3-pointers: Toliver 1, Ross 1, Powell 1, Hudik 5. Totals: 39 0-1 86.