By JJ Bullock
Things couldn’t have started off any better for the Mattoon High School boys basketball team at the class 3A IHSA Regional Tournament. Finishing their regular season with a 14-15 record, the Green Wave were slated to face a familiar foe in the first round of the regional, cross-county rival Charleston Trojans. After a tight start to the game, Mattoon was met with little resistance from the 9-16 Trojans; the Green Wave disposed of their Apollo Conference rival winning 78-58.
“We came out as a team knowing that it wasn’t going to be our last game of the season,” junior guard Drake Jeffries said.
Seemingly carrying over momentum from their blowout win over Charleston, Mattoon gave No.1- seeded Champaign Central a scare in the first quarter of their second-round matchup. Despite being an immense underdog, the Green Wave and Jeffries, who found his three-point shot early and often in the first quarter, were able to enter the second quarter with a lead over Champaign Central.
“I was just feeling it,” Jeffries said, who finished with a team-high of 19 points. “I knew I had to turn it up a notch to spark some energy in the team to get the win.”
However, any hopes of a major upset were ended promptly by the Maroons. Central brought the hammer down hard on the Green Wave in the second quarter, holding Mattoon to just three points. From there the game belonged almost entirely to the Maroons. Led by the brother tandem of Nick and Tim Finke, younger brothers of Illinois forward Michael Finke, the Maroons rolled to a 77-49 victory. Junior point guard Davis Johnson shared his thoughts on what went well in the first quarter and where the team went wrong the rest of the game.
“We defended and rebounded a lot better than we did the rest of the game. And we made shots which always makes a difference,” Johnson said. “(In the second quarter), they put a press on us and that sped us up. It showed our lack of ball handling as a team, and that sped us up, which forced us into a lot of turnovers and bad shots.”
Despite getting beaten by almost 30 points, the members of the Mattoon fan section Team Massive were treated to a very pleasant surprise. Fighting Illini forwards Malcolm Hill and Michael Finke were in attendance at the game and based on the excitement they created in the Mattoon student section, one might have thought it was the Green Wave who was blowing out the opponent.
“‘Oh my god, I can’t believe Malcolm Hill and Michael Finke are here!’ I shouted that at the top of my lungs,” senior Team Massive member and Illini fan Alec James said of the Illini player sighting.
In addition to attending the game, Hill and Finke spent almost the entire intermission taking pictures and interacting with the fans.
“I went over to ask to take a picture and I thought he was going to say no, but they were like ‘yeah we can come’ and I started freaking out. It was a top three best day of my life,” James said.
Outside of the game action, a three-point shooting contest is also held at the regional tournament. Each contestant is given three racks with five balls each to shoot with and a time of 45 seconds to do so. The top four finishers at the regional contest advance to the sectional competition held at Taylorville High School. Drake Jeffries and senior Sawyer Scott will both represent Mattoon at the sectional, after placing in the top four, including a first-place finish by Jeffries.
“It felt great shooting and winning overall,” Jeffries said. “And to be in front of our own crowd felt nice.”