While it’s never easy to lose a close one in the final game of the season, losing in overtime is often even worse.
Facing Topeka High in Thursday’s Class 6A sub-state semifinal, the Manhattan High boys’ basketball team lost a heartbreaker at home in overtime, 63-60, to end its season.
While the Indians had their chances to win it, ultimately, the loss came at the hands of their defense.
“We did a good job of battling back a couple times, at the end of regulation, in the fourth quarter, but really it just came down to — especially in overtime — we just couldn’t get stops when we needed to get a stop,” Manhattan co-interim coach Benji George said. “That was ultimately the game — we needed to just get one more stop.”
Manhattan had the chance to tie in the final seconds of overtime, but two costly turnovers in the last sequence sealed the loss.
In overtime, Topeka High got the first two baskets to lead 57-53 before Manhattan got a layup by Pierson McAtee to cut the lead to two. After another Trojan bucket, Alex Stitt knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing to cut the lead to one at 59-58.
But the Trojans got another bucket, this time from Tyrece Parker, and after the teams traded free throws, Manhattan faced a three-point deficit with 17.5 seconds to play.
Topeka High trapped as soon as Manhattan crossed halfcourt, and Trojan guard Joshua Barber came up with the loose ball and went the other way for a layup. The attempt rolled off the rim, with Topeka High’s Ernest Carter missing a tip-in attempt that could have ended the game.
McAtee came up with the rebound and dribbled down the floor, but the ball was stolen from behind as he made it to midcourt, allowing the Trojans to dribble out the clock and end Manhattan’s season.
George said emotions ran high in the locker room after such a stinging loss.
“We told them we were proud of them, and it’s not coach-speak,” he said. “We really are. They showed a lot of heart, and it’s not like we didn’t give effort and got beat. We gave a lot of effort, we showed a lot of heart. We did all those things.”
Manhattan (12-9) was led by Stitt, Gabe Awbrey and Payton Stephens, each with 11 points. Garrett Francis was also in double figures with 10 points.
Topeka High (13-8) was led by Parker’s 20 points, with Duncan Whitlock adding 12.
In the fourth quarter, Manhattan rallied midway through the period, taking the lead at 45-44 on a 3-pointer from Awbrey, before getting a Trojan turnover to go the other way for a Stephens dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
After a Topeka High bucket, Awbrey hit another 3 to stake the Indians to a four-point lead with three minutes to play.
The Trojans cut the lead to one by making four straight free throws while Manhattan made just 1 of 2 before the Indians went to a stall offense up by one with 1:25 to play. Stitt was finally fouled with 35 seconds left on the clock, and he missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Topeka High the chance to take the lead at 51-50.
Topeka High’s Russell Denney hit a 3-pointer from the wing to give the Trojans a 53-51 lead with 13 seconds to play. After a Manhattan timeout, the Indians ran a set play for Stephens, with the junior forward getting the bucket with 3.4 seconds left to tie the game and force overtime.
“Denney is a good player for them, and he stepped up and made a big-time shot,” George said. “Fortunately, we were able to respond. The guys executed the sideline out of bounds really well and we got a good look there at the end to tie it.
“We really felt like we had the momentum going into overtime, but defensively we just couldn’t sustain anything.”
Early in the game, Topeka High took the momentum midway through the first quarter, getting a 9-2 run over the final four minutes of the period to lead 15-8 after one.
But in the second quarter, Manhattan came right back, tying the game at 19-19 on a 3-pointer by Francis on the first of four straight buckets for the sophomore. Francis made it 26-19 on a driving layup to score his 10th point and break his previous career high of eight points, doing so all in the second quarter.
The Trojans came back before halftime, however, ending on an 8-1 run to go to the break tied.
“(Francis) gave us a huge lift, and it was at a very crucial time, because our backs were against the wall,” George said. “Garrett’s a guy that definitely is capable.”
Francis said when he makes his first shot, his confidence runs high.
“I love when I make my first basket, and once I make it, I feel like I can make anything,” Francis said. “It’s just a great feeling.”
Despite the loss, Francis said having just one senior on this year’s team means next year’s team will have an edge when it comes to experience.
“We’ve got four starters back — we’ll be really good next year,” he said. “I think we’ll start five seniors next year, so that will be good.”
With former coach Tim Brooks resigning during the season, this group has endured much more than the typical basketball team. Despite no decision being made on who will take the reins next season, George said the team can still focus on next year.
“We can still focus on the future, because those guys will stick around, and the future is definitely bright,” he said. “We do only lose Alex, and we’ve got a lot of guys coming back, and a lot of guys that gave us good minutes toward the end of the year that will have experience moving forward. So the future is definitely bright for us.”