DODGE CITY — Manhattan High boys’ coach Tim Brooks loves winning basketball games.
But Friday afternoon’s victory was especially sweet for the Indians’ coach because of the way his team won, only 24 hours removed from a disappointing opening-round loss in the 69th Annual Tournament of Champions.
The Indians, who withstood a late rally from gritty Class 4A Ulysses, buried key free throws down the stretch at United Wireless Arena to defeat the Tigers 46-38 and advance to the fourth-place game Saturday against St. James Academy.
On Thursday, not only did MHS shoot poorly from the field, but the Indians were collectively off-target from the free throw line, which played a big factor in the outcome of the game against Hutchinson.
Friday was different, through, as the Indians made 6-of-8 from the charity stripe to hang on for the victory against a Tigers team that wouldn’t go away, despite failing to score a basket in the opening quarter of the game.
Deante Burton and Brandon Payne led MHS with eight points apiece, while Jonathan Taylor, Keaton Barragar and Payton Stephens added six points each for the Indians, who improved to 5-4 on the year.
“I think we might have gotten tired there in the second half and lost some focus with the lead,” Brooks said. “We need to be better than that because nobody that we play is going to lie down, including Ulysses — a 4A team with a lot of pride. They were going to fight and claw to the end.”
That the Tigers did, as they used a 14-2 run in the fourth quarter to erase what was once a comfortable 20-point lead at 28-8 midway through the third period. Tate Amis scored eight of his 10 points on the run, as he helped pull Ulysses within six points at 37-31 with 3:42 to play.
The Tigers, who outscored MHS 23-15 in the final period, would never get any closer though — thanks to the work of the Indians’ defense at the end of the game — much like the way they started the game when they shut out Ulysses in the first quarter.
“Our defensive intensity was outstanding, and it had to be,” Brooks said. “That’s how you bounce back from a disappointing loss. For us to go out and play the way we played and with the effort we had, I can’t say enough about how the kids responded.”
MHS used a tough man-to-man defense to hold the Tigers to 36 percent from the field and just 3-of-17 from behind the arc.
“We wanted to come out and ball-hawk and get out and deny, to take them out of what they wanted to do,” Brooks said. “The kids talked as a group (Thursday) night and we talked about how zones kind of take away from their aggressiveness. We’re going to hopefully continue to play like that.”
The Indians’ defense also led to some big, often easy baskets on offense too, as MHS relied less on the long-ball and worked it inside against an undersized Tigers team — while outrebounding Ulysses 25-19. MHS shot a blistering 57 percent from the field — including 66 percent (8-of-12) in the second half.
“That’s how basketball is played,” Brooks said. “You can get all kinds of good looks if you play great defense and rebound.”
MHS did much of the work with good ball movement, taking the shots it wanted, often on the third or fourth pass of the possession, rather than settling for the quick rushed shots the Indians were tossing up a day earlier.
“Early on in the year, I kept telling my kids how well we shared the ball and I thought had gotten away from that, especially in the games we haven’t played very in offensively,” Brooks said. “I don’t know if being selfish was part of it, but we just got away from it.
“But today, we found good looks for good shooters, whether it was off penetration or backdoor cuts, or just throwing it into the post.”
Some of the newfound offensive success came from the decision to give post Payton Stephens his first start of the season. The 6-foot-3 freshman was 3-for-3 with six points, while coming away with four rebounds and a steal.
“We got ruggedness, good rebounds and good post moves out of Payton,” Brooks said. “For the first time to be out there, and for us, a pressure situation in a must-win game in a huge place to play, he did very well.”
MHS 46, ULYSSES
Manhattan High 11 6 14 15 — 46
Ulysses High 0 6 9 23 — 38
MANHATTAN (46) — Puliam 4, Burton 8, Stephens 6, Taylor 6, Barragar 6, Holloway 3, Perbeck 2, Payne 8, Sobering 3.
ULYSSES (38) — Galindo 2, Newell 3, Kissell 9, Zerr 10, Meierhoff 2, Annie 10, Medina 2.
3-pointers — Manhattan 3 (Payne 2, Holloway); Ulysses 3 (Zerr 3).