Andrew Jackson left it up to the kids. 

In the past, the Mattoon St. John’s boys’ basketball team had to make the choice between competing in the Lutheran Tournament in Indiana or competing in the IESA postseason. 

“The kids said they felt that they had a good shot,” said Jackson. “I’m glad they did because I thought the same thing myself.”

For the first time in school history, the boys’ basketball team qualified for the state tournament. St. Johns, 15-6 on the season, will compete today against Effingham Sacred Heart at Central A&M Middle School in Assumption at 11:30 a.m. If Mattoon wins, the team will compete in the Final Four at 5:00 pm. 

The road to the Elite 8 began in the Regional with St. Johns claiming the No. 1 seed. Mattoon then played Louisville/North Clay. The team picked up the 43-33 win to qualify for the Regional Championship. Theran Gent led the team with 14 points, while Max Wetzel and Ben Figgins each added 12 points. 

Mattoon won the Regional Championship over Newton St. Thomas 48-30 where seven players found their way into the scorebook. Jackson said the overall depth of this team has helped the team be successful all year round. 

“We probably have eight all-around players that can get minutes and contribute,” said Jackson. “We have a deep bench with five strong starters. The size and camaraderie make this team special. With what we have, it will help you get far.”

Mattoon blew past Champaign Next Generation 66-30 in the Sectional Championship to qualify for the state tournament. Mattoon was up 34-23 at halftime before holding Champaign to just seven second-half points. 

Jackson credited his two leaders in Gent and Figgins for being leaders. 

“Both of them are two guys that are the most vocal on the team,” said Jackson. “They are guys that constantly are telling the rest of the team that they can do it and it helps bring everyone together. We talked about how our defense needed to tighten up and that we could turn it into transition points.”

Gent led the team with 23 points. Figgins added 15 points while Wetzel added 14 points. 

“They started feeding Theran the ball and he just took advantage of it,” said Jackson. “The momentum started going in our way and we capitalized on driving to the lame. One basket here, another there. Our bench started getting hyped and excited and everything just started going our way.”

For a chance at a state trophy, Mattoon will need to avenge an earlier season loss. Mattoon has been defeated by Effingham Sacred Heart once this season, but St. Johns helped the lead by eight points going into the fourth quarter before losing on a buzzer-beater. 

“It was one of our first few games of the season,” said Jackson. “We didn’t know how to close our games. We were rushing. Now, the team has come together and is able to lock in. Hopefully, we can finish this game. It will be a tough matchup, but we know our strengths and will stay focused and prepared for everything.”

All in all, Jackson said anything is possible for this group if they can get past this matchup. Multiple times, Jackson cited this group as “special” and he said that everything has to do with the “team” mentality. 

“These guys trust each other,” said Jackson. “They have no issue making the extra pass. If someone is down, they rush over to their teammates. When they succeed, they congratulate each other. At halftime, everyone is talking and doing whatever they can to make adjustments. This is a special group that recognized the ‘we’ mentality. That’s not something an 8th grader always understands.”

The entire roster includes Logan Gowin, Grant Jackson, Ike Houch, Jobe Pine, Korben Harms, Max Wetzel, Grant Taggart, Ben Figgins, Fletcher Gregory,  Charles Beasley, Theran Gent, Barron Coffman, and Christian Hyder. 

The team is coached by Andrew Jackson and assisted by Jason Gowin and Dalton Compton.