Alex Stitt has played in every game this season for Manhattan High, but he doesn’t always get the chance to make an impact on the outcome.
In Tuesday’s 45-44 win over Hayden, the 6-foot-2 point guard got his chance and didn’t disappoint, handling the Wildcats’ defensive pressure and scoring six of his 10 points in the fourth quarter to help lead the Indians past Hayden.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Manhattan coach Tim Brooks said. “There when he knocked down those free throws, we had all the confidence in the world in him. We set up that press break to get him the ball, because we knew they were going to foul him.”
Stitt was 3-of -4 from the floor on the night, and was the only Indian to finish perfect from the foul line at 4-for-4.
“I try not to think about the pressure and step up and do my everyday routine,” Stitt said of his free-throw shooting. “I work on it day in and day out, so I just do the same thing.”
Coming off the bench, Stitt paired with Jonathon Taylor to limit Manhattan to just nine turnovers, a season low, while getting the ball where it needed to go against a physical Wildcat defense.
After a tied halftime score, Manhattan trailed by five after the third quarter, but Stitt got Manhattan within three almost immediately. The Indians would take the lead with five minutes to play on back-to-back baskets by Payton Stephens, but Hayden answered, taking a 38-35 lead with three minutes to play.
Stitt got his second bucket of the quarter to pull within one, then Jacob Holloway, who also finished with 10 points, hit a 3 to give Manhattan the lead. After each team traded free throws, Hayden had the ball down by one with a minute to play, but turned the ball over near halfcourt on an athletic steal by Darian Taylor, who threw the ball downcourt to Jonathon Taylor, who was fouled on the fastbreak layup attempt. He made 1-of-2 to give Manhattan a 42-39 lead.
“He was just out there busting his tail,” Brooks said of Darian Taylor’s steal. “He’s a great energy guy, he plays tough and plays physical. He hangs his hat on the defensive end and doesn’t care if he scores. Just a great teammate.”
When Hayden’s Conner Beck came down and got a layup to cut the lead to one again, Brooks knew he wanted Stitt to take the late free throws. The junior nailed them both, giving the Indians a 44-41 lead.
“It boosts my confidence knowing he wants the ball in my hands,” Stitt said. “That helped me make those two free throws.”
From there, Hayden missed a 3, then fouled Chris Hudgins, who made 1-of-2 to give Manhattan a four-point cushion, before Zach Dodd hit a 3 at the buzzer that left the Wildcats one point short as time expired.
Hayden was led by Tanner Triggs with 13 points, while Beck added eight.
“It was pretty intense — it’s always intense with Manhattan and Hayden,” Hayden coach Ted Schuler said. “But I thought both teams responded pretty well to it from the standpoint of keeping their heads. But a missed rebound here, a loose ball there, you’re going to have to be a man to go get it.”
Brooks said he was proud of his team for answering the call against a physical team in a physical game, especially after the way the team came out sloppy against Shawnee Heights last Friday.
“We were down after Friday,” he said. “We were upset that we didn’t play very well or come out with a lot of energy. But we talked about bouncing back, and who we are. I think our kids showed a lot of character tonight and were able to play a very good Hayden team and come out on top.”
Manhattan got 18 bench points in the win, which was important considering foul trouble by Stephens and Hudgins.
“I think that our bench is one of our strengths,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of dropoff. Guys come in and give us great minutes. Everybody understands both offensively and defensively how we want to play. I think our depth will really help us down the stretch.” he said.