TOPEKA — For the last three weeks, the Indians have leaned on Darby Price and Caroline Ballard to score and rebound with authority.
Tuesday night against Topeka West, it looked as if Price was going to have the marquee night, scoring 18 first-half points and outhustling the Chargers for easy buckets around the rim.
Not to be out done, Ballard came out red-hot in the third quarter, scoring nine of Manhattan’s 13 points before adding seven more in the fourth quarter to finish with 22, two more than Price’s final total of 20.
The pair managed to outscore Topeka West easily on their own as the Indians rolled to a 62-27 win over the overmatched Chargers.
Manhattan coach Scott Mall insisted the two forwards were just taking what the defense was allowing, not trying to outscore each other.
“We were just looking for what was there,” Mall said. “They guarded Darby a little more in the second half, so that opened Caroline up and Darby was the one getting her the ball a lot of those times.”
In a game that was never close, turnovers doomed the Chargers from the start. With Manhattan employing a full-court press and a variety of half-court traps, Topeka West (2-12, 0-8 Centennial) struggled to even get shot attempts, finishing the game even with 31 turnovers and just 31 shots from the floor.
“Hopefully we get a little bit more comfortable with it,” Mall said of his press. “This was a press that we haven’t used very much but we thought would be successful against them. So it was nice to get to play it a lot and hopefully see some of the rotations in it that we need to get better at.”
Manhattan (12-3, 6-2) had plenty of opportunities to work on its defense, as well as its transition offense. As the game wore on, everyone in purple, from the players, the parents in the crowd and even coach Jason Wilson were visibly frustrated, culminating in an eventual technical foul on Wilson at the 5:04 mark of the third quarter.
The Indians also used the press to neutralize the Chargers’ best threat offensively in Tulsa commitment Autura Campbell.
“I thought it was really big,” Mall said of his press. “That’s something they struggle to deal with, so it helped us get going early in the ball going. Then in the halfcourt, when they get the ball to Campbell, she’s a real threat, so that keeps them out of that situation, and you want that as much as possible.”
Campbell, finished the night with 11 points to lead the Chargers, but was just 4 of 13 from the floor. Price and Ballard, on the other hand, finished the night a combined 18 of 37.
Mall said with a talent like Campbell, the defensive plan was to do everything possible to even deny the 6-foot-2 forward the ball.
“We had some little slip-ups, but we’re not used to playing someone the way we were trying to play her,” Mall said. “We usually don’t deny all the time. The girls got better as time went on, but Caroline did a really good job against her, Stephanie Shanower did a really good job against her, making it hard for them to catch the ball.”
With just five more games left in the regular season, Mall said getting the opportunity to play his bench and rest some of his starters once the game was in hand is good.
“It’s really welcomed right now,” Mall said. “We’ve got some girls banged up right now, we’ve got people playing with some injuries, so it’s nice that they get some rest. It’s also nice that some of those JV girls that have been doing a good job but it’s hard to get them into a game, they got in fairly early, so that’s good experience for them.”
No team managed to connect on a 3-pointer in the game, as the teams combined to go 0 for 13 from beyond the arc. Manhattan had nine players score and had 14 players log minutes in the win.
Manhattan hosts Shawnee Heights on Friday in a rematch from December, a game the Indians won.