Friday night’s rematch between the Manhattan High boys’ basketball team and Shawnee Heights started to look awfully familiar as the game went on.
Manhattan staked a double-digit lead, only to see the Thunderbirds, specifically Tony Barksdale Jr., will themselves back into the game with a barrage of 3s.
This time, however, the Indians kept their heads and managed to withstand the rally, winning 64-59.
“It was a big win, and it’s really hard when you have a 10-point lead and they come charging back — it’s hard to switch gears,” Manhattan coach Tim Brooks said. “Our guys did a good job when we were down five of not panicking.”
Manhattan led 45-35 with a minute to play in the third quarter before Barksdale Jr. hit a pair of deep 3-pointers to cut the deficit to four, then hit a third consecutive 3 at the beginning of the fourth quarter to make it a one-point game. Jovan Barksdale knocked down a shot after that to give the Thunderbirds their first lead since the first quarter.
The two teams went back and forth before Braeson Sester hit another 3 to give the T-Birds a 54-49 lead with four minutes to play.
That’s when Manhattan (9-7, 5-4 Centennial) regained its composure, with Jacob Holloway knocking down a 3 and Winston Dimel getting a bucket to tie the game at 54-54 with two minutes to play. The Indians would take the lead on a pair of Jonathon Taylor free throws, with Manhattan turning to its stall offense before the T-Birds finally came out of their zone and fouled Chris Hudgins. The senior hit both his free throws, with a Barksdale Jr. missed 3 on the other end putting Taylor back on the line and giving Manhattan a 60-54 lead.
Shawnee Heights (7-9, 4-6) got another bucket to make it a four-point game, but gave it right back when Hudgins caught a home-run pass to beat the press from Alex Stitt for an easy layup. Jovan Barksdale would hit another 3 to make it a three-point game with 15 seconds left, but Holloway knocked down another pair of free throws to end any threat of a T-Bird comeback.
Manhattan was a perfect 8 for 8 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, 19 of 25 overall.
“That’s huge,” Brooks said. “Really, the guys are showing a lot of mental toughness. And that’s what it’s all about — a will to win and mental toughness at the free-throw line.”
In the first matchup with the T-Birds, Manhattan struggled all night against Shawnee Heights’ full-court press and 2-3 zone defense. Friday night, Manhattan turned the ball over nine times and was efficient in getting good looks against the T-Bird defense.
“Against their press we were much better,” Brooks said. “They quit pressing us after halftime because of the way we attacked it. I thought we did very well. We were more prepared for it this time — and we’ve seen zones quite a bit lately, so we just feel more comfortable against them now.”
The Indians finished the night shooting 58 percent, with Payton Stephens leading the way with 18 points. Holloway finished with 12 points while Hudgins had 11 points.
Tony Barksdale Jr. had 26 points for Shawnee Heights, with brother Jovan adding 15 and Sester chipping in 11.
Brooks wanted his team to key in on Tony Barksdale Jr. late in the game as the sophomore guard began to find his shooting stroke.
“We want to get out there and guard him and make him put the ball on the ground and get to the lane, and they would just run out of time eventually,” he said. “But I tell you what, he can really heat up. He’s awful, awful good. It’s too bad he’s not a senior.”
Barksdale Jr. was 5 of 6 from behind the arc in the third quarter alone, taking even an inch of separation and turning it into a swish. He also hit several that were several steps behind the arc. Manhattan countered with a box and one and a variety of zone looks to try and slow him down.
“We were trying to do a lot of things, and we really couldn’t figure out what was working the best because he got really hot,” Brooks said. “Finally, we just decided to go man and make them work hard.”
Manhattan took a 27-17 lead to halftime, with the lead ballooning to as many as 13 before Barksdale Jr. started heating up in the third quarter.
At the end of the day, Brooks was just glad his team did what it needed to do to win the game and avenge a tough loss from December.
“We’re showing signs of being a good team,” he said. “When you make plays down the stretch and step up and hit your free throws, it’s really good to see.”