Maybe it was because they were tired.
Maybe it was because they hadn’t been home in six weeks.
Perhaps, they were just fed up with giving it their all and having nothing to show for it.
Whatever the reason, Mattoon (8-19, 4-6 Apollo) came out a different team than had been seen at home six weeks ago, defeating Effingham, 44-43 Thursday night, in a wild finish that saw Team Massive storm the court showering the Green Wave team in celebration.
The Hearts (11-15, 4-4) defeated the Green Wave twice earlier this season – at the St. Anthony Turkey Tournament (75-59) on Nov. 26, then 10 days later, 63-48.
Extra passes were made, loose balls were contested, and the Green Wave went into the fourth quarter with no regard for their lack of success against the Hearts, dominating in the paint – which has been a weakness this season.
Trailing by one, Mattoon took the lead when Taerick Grace, relegated to the second-team unit, split two Effingham defenders with 79 seconds remaining for a layup that made it 42-41. The senior saved his best for a defensive top in the paint.
With 10.9 seconds left, Grace partially blocked a shot by Andrew Splechter that fell away from the rim.
“I was playing my help side,” Grace said. “I was looking at my man. I saw the ball. Jack (Helms) goes up for it (ball fake). He (Splechter) wraps around Jack and I see him (Splechter) come my way. I knew I was easily going to get that block. He left it so easy for me.”
Grace collected the blocked shot that had fallen down to the floor like a plucked feather, fouled by an Effingham player, then trotted down the court to the free throw line being met by teammates Christian Larson and Blaine Powers.
Grace missed his one and one attempt, and Effingham took a timeout to prepare for what would be the game-winng play.
Inexplicably, the Effingham inbound crossed the court and out of bounds with 6.9 seconds remaining, returning the ball back to Mattoon. Jackson Helms sealed the win with two free throws.
“Taerick played hard help side the whole game tonight,” Mattoon boys varsity basketball coach Brandon Jones said. “I think he just made a good read. He went up and and had no fear.”
Mattoon had a tough task ahead of them entering the fourth quarter, though. Effingham’s Garrett Wolfe, crossing the career 1000-point mark on Tuesday, sank a jumper that put the Hearts ahead by seven. He finished with a game-high 17 points.
The Green Wave defense then clamped down, allowing seven points the rest of the game, including an inconsequential layup at the buzzer.
Four different players scored in the fourth quarter for Mattoon, led by Grace’s eight points.
“We kept better control of the ball,” he said, with cheering heard from the Mattoon locker room. “We didn’t have as many turnovers. We didn’t take as many threes. We usually knock down the three, but tonight it wasn’t falling for us. We went to the hole, got a bucket, got some fouls. That’s what we had to do tonight.”
“It feels great.”
Larson said it was a complete game, which they haven’t done well this season.
“We played consistent the whole game,” Larson said. “Some of the past games we’ve struggled the fourth quarter or the first quarter, but I think tonight we played a complete game, an all-around team game. Tuesday, I couldn’t get it going,” he said of his zero-point showing against Centennial. “Tonight, I just made sure I drove the ball and moved it around. As a team, I think we moved the ball around good and got open shots. We took it to the rim too.”
Larson led the Green Wave with 14 points.
“Christian is team captain for a reason,” Jones said. “It’s been like that when I got here in the beginning. I knew from last year that he was going to be a big force, a big contributor. You can’t take anything away from him. He’s a competitor at every level and that’s what I love about him. It’s great to see when he trusts what his teammates can do and he’ll draw that double team. That’s a big part. His trust gave confidence in themselves to play hard for four quarters.”
Mattoon committed just five turnovers, compared to 26 on Tuesday.
“Turnovers are huge,” Larson said. “You can’t turn the ball over. We did a great job of that tonight. Going forward the rest of the season, that’s a big thing we need to work on as a team.”
Shot selection was another key to Mattoon’s win. The Green Wave recognized after Andrew Wetzel’s two first quarter threes, that the long ball wasn’t going in for them. They adjusted.
“Two days ago, we just shot too many threes,” he said. “We’re a good three-point team, but we were off. We had to do something different. Tonight, I think we focused on moving the ball around in our sets and getting the winning shot at the end.”
“Getting hot this late in the season is important especially going into regionals. If we can put some games together like this, it should be a good rest of the season.”
Larson said the team has experienced a fair amount of down periods this season.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “There’s definitely been a lot of downs throughout this season. But as a team, we’ve done a good job of sticking together through it. Tonight it showed that. Im excited for the rest.
I think as the season has gone, we’ve matured. Limited forcing shots and I think we settled down tonight and played as a team.”
“This is a great win,” Grace said. “Anytime we win it’s great, especially with all the fans. It was so amazing. It feels so great to have a home win. We had one early in the season, and we’ve been on the road. It feels great to win at home.”
Jones could hardly contain himself after the game.
“The guys just played phenomenal on both ends of the floor,” he said. “I asked them to do a few different things and they executed them. We hit a couple threes early. That’s been our Achilles heel this year. We just keep settling and I told them that we were going to have to get it into the to get the win. And boy did they get it into the paint. They worked hard and drew some fouls.”
While Jones would have liked to have beaten Centennial Tuesday, he said this win feels better.
“I think this one feels better because it’s conference,” he said. “I told them Mt. Zion and Mahomet have one and two wrapped up. But three is still up for grabs and we come out there and play like we know how we have a chance of taking third or fourth place.”
No one else had a bigger smile than he did.
“I couldn’t be more happy for them or anymore proud for them. They went and got it. They never gave up defensively. They never gave up on each other. The teamwork was unreal. I think that’s what got us the ‘W’.”
EFFINGHAM – Donaldson 1, 0-0 3, 8 0-2 17, Jones 0 1-2 1, Splechter 4 1-2 9, Heil 4 4-5 12. 3-pointers: Donaldson 1, Wolfe 1. Totals: 17 7-13 43.
MATTOON – Powers 1 1-2 4, Helms 1 2-2 5, Gardner 1 0-0 2, Wetzel 2 0-0 6, Larson 5 4-4 14, Grace 3 2-3 8, Smith 2 1-1 5. 3-pointers: Powers 1, Helms 1, Wetzel 2. Totals: 15 10-12 44.