JUNCTION CITY — Manhattan High boys’ basketball coach Tim Brooks insists he doesn’t harp on free-throw shooting at practice.
In Tuesday’s 48-46 win at rival Junction City, it sure looked like the Indians had been focusing on it, as Manhattan finished the fourth quarter a perfect 16 for 16 from the charity stripe to close out a 48-46 victory over the scrappy Blue Jays.
“We’ve come a long way,” Brooks said of his team’s free-throw shooting. “It’s a lot of mental toughness — believing that you can get the job done, and a lot of repetitions too. We spend a lot of time at it, but we don’t really harp on it. We struggled from the line early in the year, especially before Christmas, but our guys are really confident right now.”
Manhattan (10-7, 6-4 Centennial) outscored the Blue Jays 25-2 at the free-throw line, making 25 of 29 on the night for a season-best performance at the line. They needed them too, as Junction City (5-12, 3-7) knocked down four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter in an effort to erase an eight-point deficit at the end of the third.
Jacob Holloway and Chris Hudgins led the Indians in scoring while doing the bulk of the free-throw shooting. Holloway finished with 15 points, 10 of 11 from the line, while Hudgins ended the game with 13 points, making 7 of 8 free throws.
“I think everybody believes in themselves and they’re stepping up with confidence and knocking them down,” Brooks said. “We did a good job of getting the ball to our best free-throw shooters there in the fourth quarter. That’s a tribute to the kids’ basketball IQ.”
The Blue Jays got started quick in the final quarter, knocking down their first 3-pointer of the game in their first possession, then made it 32-29 with a Darius Redrick bucket at the 4:15 mark. From there, Manhattan started knocking down free throws after moving to a stall offense, with Junction City continuing to hit enough timely shots to keep the game close as the last couple minutes ran off the clock.
“If we go four out,” Brooks said, “and we’re within two minutes there, our kids understand that if we have the lead, we want to cut and pass and try and take some time away, and they do a good job.”
Manhattan led 44-38 with 30 seconds to play before Tanner Lueker hit a 3-pointer to make it a three-point game. But Holloway nailed another pair of free throws to extend the lead. Junction City’s Eric Stepan got a bucket to make it a three-point game again with 4.1 second to play, but Hudgins stepped up and calmly knocked down another pair of free throws, which became important as Redrick banked in a last-second shot just inside the halfcourt line at the buzzer.
“It feels good,” he said, “and it feels good because again we played well down the stretch.”
Junction City was led by Cedric Johnson’s 14 points and five rebounds, while Frank Johnston finished with nine points.
Manhattan faced an early 18-11 deficit in the second quarter, but ended the half on a 14-0 run to take the lead for good. They got two baskets in transition by Hudgins to end the half.
“We started working harder,” Brooks said of the run. “We were kind of going through the motions there when they made their run. We fell asleep defensively, but we got out and ran.”
In the third quarter, both teams struggled to score the ball, as the Indians switched defenses and made things tough on the Blue Jays.
“They get out in that 3-2 zone and it’s very wide,” Junction City coach Pat Battle said. “It’s difficult to rotate the ball, and someday when we have a 6-foot-9 kid, we’ll put him right there in the middle and that will change things, but right now, we don’t.”
Battle said he was impressed with the shooting of the Indians, but was also pleased with his team’s efforts.
“I was pleased with our guys’ effort,” Battle said. “They did a great job at fighting, staying in there and finding ways to make things happen. You’ve got to give credit to Manhattan for hitting their free throws.
“We tell our kids, and one day maybe they’ll listen, but 30 percent of all points scored in a high school game come from the free-throw line. Tonight it was more.”
Manhattan now must turn its attention to finding a way to win on senior night Friday. The Highland Park Scots come to town, with a 17-0 record in tow after easily dispatching Washburn Rural 78-37 Tuesday.
“We just talked about it a little bit,” Brooks said of Friday’s game. “What an opportunity for us. It’s at our place. I think we do some things well that could give them problems, but they also do a lot of things well that could cause us problems.
“If we’re solid with the basketball and we can rebound and not turn it over, I like our chances.”