When Manhattan High and Junction City met in January, the game turned into a slow, methodical, defensive game, with the Indians squeaking out a 35-32 win.
Tuesday’s rematch in Manhattan was nothing like that.
Behind a quick start and a strong second half, the Manhattan High boys’ basketball team set a season high for points while winning in dominant fashion, 94-65, in a rivalry game with extra significance for players, coaches, and the raucous crowds supporting each school.
The last time Manhattan scored more than 90 points in a game came in the 1993-94 season with head coach Terry Taylor’s Indians defeating Bishop Miege, 99-66.
Pierson McAtee, who had a double-double while setting a career high in scoring with 25 points and 10 rebounds, said Tuesday’s outcome was a redemption of sorts from the January meeting.
“It’s a confidence booster,” he said. “It’s the same as last year, we came out on our home floor and protected it, and I think we kind of redeemed ourselves from the game at JC — we didn’t play our best. We came out here and we played real well.”
Manhattan (11-6, 6-4 Centennial) led 42-34 at halftime, but outscored Junction City 27-17 in the third quarter and piled it on in the fourth quarter, turning away any semblance of a comeback by the Blue Jays.
With an 80-60 lead midway through the fourth, Payton Stephens took a baseball pass on the inbound for a thunderous dunk that ignited a 10-0 run that finally emptied both benches and put the game out of reach.
Early on, Manhattan shook off its first-quarter woes and came out focused and scoring at a frenetic pace, jumping out to a lead behind three first-quarter 3s by McAtee, while leading by as many as 14 in the opening quarter.
McAtee finished the night 5 of 7 from long range and 10 of 13 overall.
“Pierson was outstanding,” Manhattan interim co-head coach Shane Sieben said. “With teams focusing so much on Payton inside, it leaves us open for some kick-outs when we get the ball inside to him. We did a good job of finding him and getting kick-outs for 3s early, and then he really attacked and converted inside as well.”
The Indians stayed hot in the second quarter, extending the lead to as many as 16, but allowed the Blue Jays to cut into the lead by halftime, with a 3-pointer by Jonathan Wilds and a bucket by Ja’Male Morrow in the final minutes to make it 42-34 at the break.
“We just focused on guarding,” Sieben said. “The second quarter, we didn’t do a good job of guarding up top. We were passive and let their guards penetrate and get into the lane and then they got some dunks and easy looks.
“We didn’t do a good job of guarding up top and keeping them in front of us. We were better in the second half, and we rebounded better.”
In addition to McAtee’s big night, Chris Martin also set a career high with 19 points, with Stephens and Gabe Awbrey each scoring 14.
Martin said he tried to be more aggressive against the Blue Jays’ bigger posts.
“Coach has been talking to me this week telling me their bigs are big, but they’re slow and I could get around them, so that’s what I did,” Martin said. “My teammates helped me get open and found me in the paint.”
Sieben said Martin has been good all season doing the little things, but is capable of shouldering a scoring load as well.
“He came out tonight, and he plays with so much energy, he’s so quick and so explosive,” Sieben said. “You see that on the football field and we saw it in here tonight. He got boards, offensive rebounds, put backs. He does all the dirty work that a lot of times doesn’t show up in the stats.”
Junction City (5-11, 3-6) was led by Semaj Johnson with 16 points, with Wilds adding 11 points.
Manhattan finished the night shooting 30 of 49 (61 percent), with a 9 of 16 clip from behind the arc. They also outscored Junction City 25-8 at the free-throw line.
The Blue Jays finished 25 of 56 from the floor, including 7 of 20 from long range.
With a trip to league-leading Highland Park (16-1, 10-0) on Friday, Manhattan will need all the momentum it picked up in Tuesday’s rivalry win if it hopes to upset the Scots.
“They’re a different animal,” Sieben said. “They have great athletes and return four starters from last year. We’ll have our hands full.”