Boys overcome slow start, beat rivals

Jacob Clanton, Print Editor-in-Chief

As Manhattan High began its first Centennial League game of the young season, the team successfully slowed Junction City down, while struggling on offense itself. Luckily, that’s exactly the spot it expects to be in.

“At this time of year, defense should be easier than offense,” head coach Benji George said, “if you’re willing to put in the work. I think every high school basketball coach in the state is going into break thinking, ‘We got to do some things offensively,’ and we’re just like every other team. We’ve got to figure out what a good shot is, [and] we’ve got to figure out what ball reversal is.”

The Indians (4-1) overcame their slow start to outlast rival Junction City (3-2) 46-35.

The Blue Jays struck first, hitting a field goal that would hold MHS at bay for half of the quarter. Sophomore Chandler Marks finally got Manhattan on the board with a three-pointer, and the Indians would add five more to lead 8-4 at the end of the first quarter.

Second quarter was more of the same for both teams, as neither was able to find a rhythm offensively. MHS led just 16-11 at halftime.

Through the offensive drought, Manhattan turned to its defense.

“We only scored 16,” senior Nate Awbrey said, “but they only scored 11, so that defense really kept us in the game, kept some momentum on our side [and] allowed us to keep our heads up.”

One of the keys for the Indians was limiting Junction’s offensive rebounds.

“We had to box out mainly,” sophomore Raeshon Riddick said. “We can’t let second-chance points [happen], so we had to limit them to one shot and then we had to push to get our points.”

Manhattan finally got going in the second half thanks to a quick basket by Riddick, who led the team with 11 points. Senior John Ostermann followed that up with five points in back-to-back trips.

“I think we just needed to see [the offense] through,” George said, “and that kind of got us established. Still wasn’t perfect, we went through a long scoring drought at the end of the quarter, but it was something to build on at least.”

Even with the increased offense, MHS wasn’t able to pull away and led 30-22 after three quarters.

The fourth quarter continued to be a back-and-forth affair. The teams traded baskets, before Junction went on a 5-0 run to close the gap to seven. Two quick Manhattan baskets ended that rally, and Junction went into fouling mode.

The Blue Jays sent Awbrey to the line three times in the final 2:30. He shot six free throws; all were makes, clinching the game.

“They’d score a bucket, but we’d answer back with two free throws,” Awbrey said. “I think really just not letting any momentum get to their side, just balancing it out with those free throws really balanced the game out and didn’t let any runs happen.”

Though those were Awbrey’s only points of the night, George was pleased with his performance.

“He’s a tough senior leader,” George said. “He understands that he’s our anchor, and I thought anchored us, especially late tonight.”

Thanks to Awbrey’s clutch free throws, Manhattan was able to ice the game and beat its rivals on Junction’s own court.

“It always feels great to beat Junction,” Awbrey said. “[For] a lot of us, it was our first time playing here, in an environment like this, so it was awesome, really enjoyed it.”

The Indians don’t play again until 2018, meaning they have weeks to work their offense out.

“I’m pretty sure we’re going to try to work on limiting dribbles,” Riddick said, “how to stay patient and like how to beat a trap and how to find the open man.”

MHS’ next game is Jan. 5 hosting Highland Park.