TOPEKA — Manhattan High coach Tim Brooks knows late February is the worst time for a team’s focus to start to wane.
Perhaps that’s why he was so frustrated after falling on the road to Topeka Hayden 43-32 in a game the Indians managed to keep close until the fourth quarter.
“On every possession, we messed things up,” Brooks said. “Whether it was execution-wise, or communication, on both ends of the floor. It wasn’t just one person, it wasn’t two people — it was everybody.”
Chris Hudgins was the lone exception to the rule, scoring a game-high 16 points while doing most of the dirty work inside and showing more hustle than any of his teammates.
The senior was 5 of 7 from the field and 6 of 8 from the free-throw line on a night when other top scorers couldn’t find any rhythm.
“He’s the only guy that played hard,” Brooks said. “He’s competitive. He wants to win and he’s willing to do whatever it takes. He throws his body around, he dives on the floor, he gets steals, he posts up. He was pretty dang active tonight.”
Both teams struggled to score throughout the game, especially early. Hayden led 16-14 at halftime, but missed only one field goal in the second half. Manhattan kept up with the Wildcats in the third quarter, trailing only 28-24 entering the fourth, but gave up a 7-0 run in the first four minutes of the final period to give Hayden a cushion the Indians couldn’t erase.
“It was a combination of things,” Brooks said of the fourth quarter drought. “But it all started with us coming out of the quarter change and not listening and running what we were supposed to run.”
By the four-minute mark of the final period, Manhattan had three turnovers and just one shot attempt, while Hayden was meticulous with the ball, waiting for a defensive breakdown to get an open shot. Hayden finished 8 of 9 from the field in the final two quarters.
Making matters worse for Manhattan (10-9, 6-6 Centennial) was this was a game the Indians badly needed if they want to host a game next week at sub-state. The Indians have one more chance on Friday to pick up a win and separate from the pack of teams with similar records.
“Very important,” Brooks said of Friday’s trip to Seaman. “It’s the difference between going on the road and hosting at sub-state. And though we’re not afraid to go on the road, it’s much more fun to play at home.”
Brooks said Hayden’s raucous student section, which was boosted by senior night celebrations, wasn’t to blame for the lack of focus.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “It was just us not being ready. We talked about Hayden and how they’re going to compete and how they’re going to play hard, and we didn’t match it. Chris Hudgins did, and nobody else.”
Jacob Holloway and Payton Stephens both had off nights for the Indians, combining for two points on 1-for-11 shooting. Jonathon Taylor was the only player other than Hudgins to score more than two points on the night, finishing with seven.
“It was a lack of focus,” Brooks said. “After 19 games, you’d think that wouldn’t be a problem, but our first defensive possession we had one guy in man, and four people in zone. We came out of timeouts and quarter changes and people don’t know what’s going on, so they’re not listening.”
For Hayden (11-8, 6-6), avenging a loss in January to the Indians, while also sending off its seniors with a victory in their last home game helped them stay motivated.
Leading scorer Tanner Triggs wasn’t connecting on shots from long range early, so he opted to distribute instead, finding teammates in what ended up being a balanced scoring effort from the Wildcats.
Senior Conner Beck led the Wildcats with nine points, coming from 3-of-3 shooting from long range.
“When we shoot the ball in rhythm and on the move, it typically goes in,” Hayden coach Ted Schuler said. “I thought we did that in the fourth quarter. I thought if we could break away a little bit, our defense could hold them to secure the victory.”