DODGE CITY — It was close, but not enough Friday night, as the Manhattan High boy’ basketball team could not overcome a poor third quarter, losing to Hays, 42-36, in the 71st Annual Tournament of Champions semifinal at United Wireless Arena.
Manhattan lost to Maize, 51-47, in the third-place game on Saturday afternoon.
Tied 17-17 at halftime, Hays came away with possibly the two biggest shots of the game because they provided it with just enough cushion to hang on and win the game.
Manhattan’s Alex Stitt had just made a jumper to give his team a 21-20 lead with 2:45 to go in the third quarter, but Hays fired back with consecutive 3-pointers to match its largest lead of the game to that point and give it a 26-21 advantage going into the final quarter, outscoring MHS 9-4 in the frame.
“It was a little deflating, especially in a close game,” Manhattan head coach Tim Brooks said. “We kind of clawed back and gave ourselves a chance, but we couldn’t attack their zone.”
Manhattan (7-3) got within two points twice and one point once in the final four minutes of the game, but could not finish the comeback. Hays closed the game making 9 of 12 from the free-throw line.
The matchup of the game was expected to be between MHS’ 6-foot-3 forward Payton Stephens and Hays’ 6-7 forward Brady Werth. Stephens had 25 points in Manhattan’s first-round win, while Werth scored 26 in Hays’ opening-round victory.
But neither big man could duplicate those performances on Friday, with both teams seemingly so focused on taking each other’s posts out of the game — almost canceling each other out. Stephens, who battled foul trouble most of the game, finished with a team-high nine points and six rebounds, while Werth had five points and five rebounds.
“The first half, (Werth) has three points, 1 of 6 from the free-throw line — we made him work for everything,” Brooks said. “We made it tough on him, but they just had guys step up and make shots.”
Jordan Windholz picked up the slack for Hays, finishing with a game-high 19 points — including three 3-pointers.
Manhattan — which hasn’t won TOC since 1973 — had some shooters step up as well, though — highlighted by Pierson McAtee, who had a pair of 3-pointers. Stitt scored seven points — including one trey and a breakaway layup on a steal in the fourth quarter.
“We hit some early and kept us in it and gave us some life, but just had a hard time executing,” Brooks said. “We were kind of our own worst enemy. We had way too many turnovers, too many lackadaisical passes, not enough ball fakes against the zone, which is disappointing. But our effort and toughness defensively gave us a chance.”
Manhattan shot 39 percent from the field, outrebounded Hays 27-22, turned the ball over 20 times and only got to the foul line six times where it made three shots. Hays shot 38 percent from the field, but made 14 of 25 shots from the line, while committing just 12 turnovers.