After two straight disappointing, nail-biting losses, Manhattan High was determined to bounce back and learn from its mistakes.
The Indians (5-3, 2-2 Centennial League) succeeded, handily beating Topeka West (6-2, 3-2 Centennial League) 69-43.
“That’s the word: respond,” head coach Benji George said. “We took care of the ball for the most part against that kind of pressure, against those kind of athletes, we shot really good shots, and that was the biggest thing, we just trusted in each other.”
After the Shawnee Heights loss earlier this week, George could tell something was different about his team.
“We had a good, honest film session,” George said. “I said some things I don’t normally say and trusted that they were going to believe in me and the staff and they did, and they believed in each other, and it showed tonight.”
Neither team got off to a quick offensive start, as Manhattan led just 13-8 after the first quarter. Topeka West jumped into their press defense early on, but the Indians were prepared for it.
“Big shout out to the coaches,” senior Dawson Stewart said. “We ran a lot of six-on-five in practice to get us ready for their pressing, and that helped a lot for sure. That helped prepare us for the pressure and stay the course.”
That preparation showed in the second quarter, as the Indians scored 27 points enroute to a 40-23 halftime lead. MHS turned the ball over just once in the quarter and ended the quarter on a 15-1 run.
“The biggest thing was just, we only had one turnover in the quarter,” George said, “so every possession, we were ending it with a shot, most of them were good shots. Then our defense led to some offense, and that was key for us too.”
Manhattan took some extra momentum into the half as senior John Ostermann hit a 3-pointer as time expired.
“The play we run broke down because they ran two guys at the ball,” George said, “and you know, he can hit some of those and just was huge for us. It was a microcosm of our night.”
Topeka West wouldn’t give up though, as senior Koriyon Carr single-handedly went on a 9-0 run, closing the Indians’ lead to just 10 points. However, MHS responded, keeping the Chargers at bay and pushing the lead back to 16 points by the end of the quarter.
“I think we can really use that to keep the guys believing in who we can be because we could have buckled up real easy and let them back in the game, but we didn’t do that,” George said. “We’re not going to be perfect all the time like we were for the most part tonight, but I think the kids are really going to be believing now.”
Manhattan continued to dominate defensively in the fourth quarter, not allowing a Topeka West score until midway through the quarter.
“Talking I think was big,” Stewart said. “Just little words here and there to let each other know we got each other’s backs, [and] just pressuring and fighting the tiredness and trusting the guys behind us in the gaps and in the help-side rotations.”
That defense continued to be strong, allowing only six points in the fourth as Manhattan won going away 69-43.
George was proud of the way his team played against such a statistically good team.
“We held them, I think, 15 points below their season average,” George said, “but the biggest thing was that was the number one defense in the league up to this point, you know, and we were able to put 70 up there, or close to, so just all-around great game for us.”
The Indians now look to take that momentum into the Tournament of Champions in Dodge City on Thursday. MHS takes on Hays in the first of three rounds of play.
“Honestly, throw the results out the window,” Stewart said. “Just fight for each other, leave it out there for each other, and if we do it like we did it tonight, just with the mindset we had to have each other’s backs, play together, it’s our shot, not my shot, if we take that to TOC, then we’ll be just fine.”