DERBY — More often than not, experience counts for a lot in a season opener.
The Manhattan Indians don’t return much varsity experience from last season, while the Derby Panthers started four seniors and begin this season ranked No. 7 by the KBCA.
Not surprisingly, Manhattan didn’t get off to a great start and was forced to play from behind all night.
The Indians cut into the Derby lead late with a barrage of 3s from senior Jacob Holloway, but the rally came up short as the Panthers hit just enough free throws to keep Manhattan at bay.
“We had a lot of guys out there that didn’t have a whole lot of varsity experience, and I feared that we were going to get sped up early, but as the game went on, we kind of figured things out, especially in the last six minutes,” Manhattan coach Tim Brooks said.
“We have to take some positives from it, and that’s something we can take. We started to be a little more fundamentally sound against their pressure, which was pretty important.”
Derby opened the game with a stout full-court press that forced Manhattan into 11 first-half turnovers. As Manhattan kept turning the ball over, the Panthers found their groove, going on a 9-0 run in the first quarter to take a 16-4 lead. By halftime, the lead was 14 points.
“We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of heart that aren’t going to quit,” Brook said. “That’s what they said out of all those timeouts, ‘no quit, no quit’, so a ton of heart and that’s the way we’re going to have to be.”
Toward the end, it was Holloway doing all the work offensively for the Indians, knocking down four of his game-high six 3s, all while the Derby defense did its best to contain him.
“He’s very confident,” Brooks said of Holloway. “He’s obviously able to shoot the ball and we’ve got other guys that can as well, but tonight was his night. He was feeling it and they came at good times.”
Derby coach Brett Flory was fuming as Holloway found open looks from the corner in the fourth quarter where a Manhattan miss might have sealed the game.
“That kid is a heck of a player,” Flory said. “You don’t know some of those things going into your opening-night games as well as you should. We went brain-dead on him a few times. In the huddle, all we were talking about was stopping him and yet he was lighting us up.”
Another bright spot for Manhattan was the play of Winston Dimel inside. He, along with Chris Hudgins, were tasked with guarding Derby’s 6-foot-6 big-man Josiah Ray. Dimel ended the night scoring 13 points.
“He’s strong and he understands that he’s 6-foot,” Brook said, “and he’s going to go down and do the dirty work for us along with Darian and (Hudgins).”
Brooks said he was pleased with his team’s ability to solve the Derby half-court defense once they broke the press. He just wasn’t happy with his team’s ability to do the latter.
“Really, there in the second half,” he said, “when we got past the first wave of pressure, we executed things pretty well.”
Leading the way for Derby was Ray with 19 points, while Taylor Schieber finished with 17.
“We have a pretty veteran group this year and they were able to channel that opening-night nervousness that you have into good things instead of bad things,” Flory said. “So we had a ton of energy early and used it well, executing our press.
“I think Manhattan has a lot better team than some people think going into this year. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them go on and end up having a great season.”