By Mike Monahan

Mattoon coach Brandon Jones knew his team would have a challenge before Friday’s game against Class 3A, No. 9 Mt. Zion.

“They are a very talented team,” said Jones. 

The Braves scored 31 points in the opening quarter and led by 20 en route to a 78-44 victory in an Apollo Conference game Friday. 

“Their shooting in the first quarter was just unbelievable and it was not like we were not playing defense, ” said Jones. “We were putting a hand up even and they were just knocking them down from everywhere.”

Mt. Zion won its 12th straight game and improved to 11-0 in the conference, wrapping up its first Apollo title since 2015-16 and were 14-of-16 (.875) from the field in the opening period. 

“We are best when we are in transition,” said Mt. Zion coach Dale Schuring, a former Arthur coach and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame member. “Defensively, we got after it early and got a couple of steals and rebounds and went with it too.”

The Braves had a starting player height advantage of two inches, but were also faster than the Green Wave as Mt. Zion scored the game’s first 11 points in 1:42, starting with a 3-pointer by Grant McAtee and including a layup by Braydon Trimble. Mattoon, who played man-to-man, got on the board with a layup by Andrew Wetzel, who led the Green Wave with 13 points. Wetzel’s 3-pointer with 3;42 left in the opening period brought MHS to within 10, 17-7. 

The Braves outscored Mattoon 23-4 over the next 5:30 taking complete control and showing why they are No. 9 in the state. 

Mt. Zion used balanced scoring, not only during the run, but the game. In the scoring spurt Timble, Driscoll, and Carson Cuddy, the only starting senior all had six points during that time. 

The 26 wins for Mt. Zion is the second-best in school history, trailing only the 2000-01 team that went 27-4. 

“They are a very disciplined team,” said Jones. “They ran quite a few defenses on us and we kind of rushed shots. We needed to take our time at the beginning.”

How good was Mt. Zion’s first quarter and first half (22-of-28 .786) shooting from the field. So much so that Schuring said, “I felt like we had two bad possessions overall and that is about as good as we have played in a half of basketball offensively. We shot the ball well which we have struggled with at times this year. In the first half we executed very well on the offensive end and shared the ball well.”

Mt. Zion is in the Decatur MacArthur Regional and plays Charleston at 7:30 a.m. Feb. 22 while Mattoon, who is also in the same regional, opens at Decatur Eisenhower on Feb 18.

“We are very capable and we are going to have to shoot like that to have a good postseason (Charleston and then more than likely Decatur MacArthur in the regional championship).”

Mt. Zion dominated the boards 30-14 and had 13 turnovers compared to 16 for MHS. 

Our regional subsectional  is just brutal,” said Schuring. “ It is what it is . You have to go through the  good teams at some point and ours just happens to be maybe a little bit earlier than we would like. We have known for a long time that iit is where it was going to be and what it was going to look like.”

 Mt. Zion beat Mattoon on Dec. 17 by 75-43 at Mt. Zion. 

“That 1-3-1 is fairly effective for them as they have length,” said Jones. “They are only going to get better and it kind of gives you an idea on what to prepare for in the future.”

Mt. Zion has just three seniors.

The Braves had five players in double digits with Grant McAtee leading the way with 15 points. J.C. Anderson, a 6-7 freshman, came off the bench to score 13, while Trimble had 12. Sam Driscoll and Carson Cuddy, 6-8, had 10 points each. 

Mt. Zion not only made layups, but also 3-pointers and shots from outside. 

“That is what we practice,’’ said Schuring. “When we are shooting 3-pointers well, we are really difficult to guard.”

Mattoon,7-21,  who went 3-13 before Christmas and are 4-8 after Christmas, has a quick turnaround playing Robinson at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in the Teutopolis Wooden Shoe Shootout.

Mt. Zion3126174 –78
Mattoon11101112 –44

MT. ZION: Driscoll 4 0-0 10, Koester 3 0-0 7, McAtee 6 0-0 15, Trimble 5 2-2 12, Cuddy 4 2-2 10, Clark 1 2-2 4, Adams 1 0-0 2, Fink 0 0-0 0, Weigler 0 0-0 0, Harvey 0 -0-0 0, Owens 1 0-0 2, Burrus 1 0-0 2, Anderrson 6 1-1 13, Hart 0 1-2 1, Totals 32 8-9 78

MATTOON: Powers 0 0-0 0, Helms 0 0-0 0, Gardner 2 2-3 6, Wetzel 5 0-0 13, Larson 1 2-2 4, Boyer 2 2-4 7, Kirts 0 0-0 0, Jean 2 0-0 4, Rice 1 0-0 2, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Grace 0 2-4-2, Smith 2 1-2 6, Totals 15 9-15 44

3-point goals: Mt. Zion 6-16 .375 (McAtee 3-3, Driscoll 2-4, Koester 1-4, Owens 0-1, Clark 0-1. Anderson 0-1, Fink 0-1, Harvey 0-1), Mattoon 5-16 .313 (Wetzel 3-7, Boyer 1-3, Smith 1-1, Helms 0-1, Powers 0-1, Larson 0-2, Rice 0-1). Turnovers: Mt. Zion 13, Mattoon 16. Bench points: Mt. Zion 24, Mattoon 21. Rebounds: Mt. Zion 30 (Driscoll 5), Mattoon 14 (Jean 3). Total field goals: Mt. Zion 32-48 .667, Mattoon 15-41 .366