Manhattan High boys’ co-interim coach Benji George told the team to prepare for Tuesday’s game against Hayden as if it would come down to the final possession.
After a furious Manhattan rally in the final quarter, the prediction rang true as the Indians battled back to make it a two-point game on several occasions late in the game, but couldn’t come up with the game-tying bucket, instead falling 63-61 to the Wildcats at home.
The Indians had multiple chances to tie the game within the wild final minute.
Gabe Awbrey’s open layup on a ballscreen cut the Hayden lead to 60-58 with 1:04 to play. Hayden’s Derrick McGreevy was fouled on the next possession, airballing his first free-throw attempt before missing the second. But the officials called a lane violation on Manhattan, giving McGreevy a third chance, which he made.
Alex Stitt was fouled on Manhattan’s next possession, where he made the first free throw to make it 61-59 with 38 seconds to play. On his second attempt, he missed, with Hayden’s Marcus Meier grabbing the rebound but falling to the ground with it. No travel was called, but Hayden turned the ball over in a wild sequence that saw Manhattan give the ball right back to Hayden. Before the Wildcats could turn the ball over again, Hayden took a timeout with 29 seconds left.
Manhattan fouled Meier, who went to the line for a one-and-one opportunity and knocked down both to stake the Wildcats to a 63-59 lead. Awbrey got a layup seemingly at the buzzer, but 1.2 seconds were put back on the clock. Hayden threw a long inbound pass to to end the game.
“When we prepare for Hayden, we tell them to prepare like it’s going to be a one-basket game, because it usually is,” George said. “If the ball bounces differently any of those times, things could end up differently, but there were also things we could have done. We can’t really blame any one play or any one player. What we did well, we should have done more of.”
After trailing by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, Manhattan intentionally sped up the pace of the game, getting a 7-0 run midway through the quarter capped by a 3-pointer by Payton Stephens to make it 56-50.
“I think we were just a little bit better at playing a fast game than they were, and so we were trying to speed up the tempo, and it’s something we should have done earlier, but that scrum at the end was just crazy,” George said. “I can’t recall every single detail of it, but obviously we wish the ball would have bounced differently one way or the other.”
Manhattan was led by Gabe Awbrey’s 19 points, while Pierson McAtee and Payton Stephens each scored 15.
“(Awbrey) was much more aggressive taking the ball to the hole tonight, and he hit a couple outside shots,” George said. “Really offensively it was an all-around good game for him.”
Hayden had three players in double figures, with Brogan Heinen scoring 16 points, with McGreevy adding 14 and Meier with 12.
“They’re so well-coached and they’ve always executed really well,” George said of Hayden. “They made it hard on us - they swung the ball from side to side too easily and Meier inside made it tough for our bigs. Our guards didn’t do a good enough job of helping, which is something we talked about.”
In the first half, the two teams went back and forth before Hayden built a lead in the second quarter, outscoring Manhattan 17-8 to take a 31-25 halftime lead.
After a slow start for Meier, the Wildcats’ post got things going in the second quarter, scoring five points while drawing plenty of defensive attention.
Manhattan, on the other hand, had just two second-quarter field goals as the offense struggled with turnovers while missing the offensive presence of McAtee, who had to sit with two fouls for most of the period. After scoring nine points in the first quarter, he had none in the second.
“He got in foul trouble and we really didn’t want to risk him getting a third foul, especially as good as Meier is inside for them,” George said. “We knew we’d need him later on, so we made the decision to sit him. It hurt us a little bit, but we were only down six at halftime, so we were OK.”
Manhattan shot 25 of 53 (47 percent) from the floor, while Hayden was 21 of 38 (55 percent). Hayden outscored the Indians 17-7 from the free-throw line.
Despite the loss, Manhattan didn’t lose any ground in the sub-state standings, where the team remains tied with Lawrence Free State and Topeka High for fourth place after both teams lost Tuesday.
With one more game on the regular-season schedule, George said the team is motivated to finish strong.
“Our goal this week was to go 2-0, but we told the guys if we go 0-2, we don’t have a chance at hosting,” he said. “It’s still right there in front of us for Friday, and hosting is something that’s important to us, so we’ll use that as motivation tomorrow and Thursday and get ready for Seaman Friday.”