For Manhattan to have a chance against undefeated Highland Park Friday night, it was going to need to do at least two things.
First, the Indians would need to hold the Scots to their lowest point total of the season. Second, they’d need to take care of the ball and maintain a deliberate tempo that all-but eliminated Highland Park’s transition game.
Highland Park’s 56-29 win over Manhattan was indeed the team’s lowest scoring total for the year, but Manhattan’s 17 turnovers led to too many easy baskets and a frenetic pace at times, spoiling senior night for five Manhattan seniors.
“If we don’t turn it over as much as we do, we hold them to even less,” Manhattan coach Tim Brooks said. “We flew around defensively as much as we could, but they’re so good and so quick. If you make a mistake defensively, they’re going to score.”
Manhattan introduced its five seniors between games, with Chris Hudgins, Blake Saville, Garrett Henry, Jacob Holloway and Jonathon Taylor all making their way across the hardwood as the crowd cheered. Brooks said each has played a vital role in getting the team to this point.
“They are pretty dang important,” he said of his seniors. “They’ve made this season pretty enjoyable for me. Their work ethic and their desire to get better every day has been monumental in our success. They’ve been good leaders, and though we’ve had ups and downs and it’s been a roller-coaster year, I really look forward to practice every day and being around them. So that says a lot about their character.”
Once the game got started, Manhattan (10-8, 6-5 Centennial) struggled to contain the transition game of the Scots, who turned many of the Indians’ 17 turnovers and into layups on the other end of the court. They were also able to get transition buckets off many of Manhattan’s missed shots.
“I thought our guys really battled inside and we tried to contest shots on the outside,” Brooks said. “But our undoing was the turnovers on offense.”
Highland Park (18-0, 11-0) didn’t need any help establishing an early lead, but the Indians chipped in anyway. Facing a stiff man-to-man defense that had the athleticism to extend all the way to the perimeter, the Indians had four turnovers and faced an 8-0 deficit before even getting off a shot attempt.
“We were very excited for the opportunity, pretty hyped up,” he said. “Maybe too hyped. But we did settle down and our defense was pretty good in the first half.”
The Indians battled back, slowing the game down and pulling within 8-6 toward the end of the opening quarter as Highland Park struggled with turnovers against Manhattan’s 3-2 zone defense.
But that’s as close as the Indians would get the rest of the way, as Highland Park got a pair of easy buckets to end the first quarter and went on to lead 24-14 at halftime.
In the second half, Highland Park was able to get out and run even more, while outscoring the Indians 32-15 the rest of the way.
“We started the second half turning it over, and it really wasn’t because of their pressure,” Brooks said. “It was because of our carelessness, and that’s too bad, because against a team like that, you can’t be careless. Once they get some steals and they get out in transition, they really get going.”
The Indians got a balanced scoring effort, with Chris Hudgins leading the charge with seven points. Winston Dimel had six for the Indians, with Darian Taylor adding four points. Highland Park did their best to shut down the inside-out game of Payton Stephens and Jacob Holloway.
“It was a total team effort on their part,” Brooks said of the Scots’ defense. “I don’t know if they necessarily keyed on one person, but they smothered us from the get-go.”
Highland Park was led by Jahmal McMurray’s 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting, with Tray Wheeler adding 17, including three 3-pointers. McMurray was Highland Park’s best player in transition, getting most of his points off layups.
“The thing about him is, not only can he shoot, but he can get around you as quick as possible,” Brooks said. “If you’re closing out on him or flying out to contest a 3, he’s so quick, he can shot-fake and go. He put our team defense in a bad predicament.”
Highland Park coach Ken Darting said his team knew beating the Indians at home would be a challenge.
“We came in here with a lot of respect for Manhattan,” Darting said. “Manhattan’s really good here, not that they’re bad away, but they’re really good in Manhattan. We knew it was going to be a football game against a track meet, and we wanted to try and keep it a track meet as much as possible, because we’re not going to whip any of them, that’s for sure.”
In the end, a loss of any kind, even to an undefeated team with more talent than any other team in the league, stings for Manhattan’s seniors. But the Indians have a shot at redemption with a pair of road games next week that will go a long way toward deciding whether Manhattan will host its opening sub-state game. Manhattan is currently tied for third place with Wichita Heights and Washburn Rural. One of those three schools will make a road trip in the first round.
“Going into tonight, we were sitting third in sub-state, which you would host first round,” Brooks said. “But we’re all clumped together. I think that we’ve got to get at least one win to maintain a four-spot. So it’s important.”