Manhattan head boys basketball coach Benji George thought it would take three more good defensive possessions to beat Topeka High a second time.
He got them. The Indians beat the Trojans, 66-51, on Tuesday. Last time, the teams went to overtime, with the Indians coming out on top, 70-64, on Jan. 3.
“I think it just really was defensive stops,” head coach Benji George said. “We did a good job of getting in gaps and staying tight and connected in the back line. I think that was the biggest key, they weren’t able to drive to the rim early, and we created some turnovers.”
Topeka High (7-10, 3-7 Centennial League) struck first on a Ky Thomas 3-pointer, but that was it for the opening quarter.
Manhattan (13-4, 8-2 Centennial League) went on a tear, answering Thomas’ 3 with 14 unanswered points. After a Tommy Ekart 3 to open the second quarter, the Trojans got on the board again with a pair of free throws by Nysir Scott.
Ekart led the Indians in scoring with 24 points, and Trevor Hudgins put together a stellar second half to finish with 20. Thomas was hard to stop, recording 30 points for Topeka.
“They have a lot of offensive weapons, with Nysir, we saw what he can do against us last time, so we keyed on him a little bit more and did a good job on him,” George said. “But, boy, that freshman, Thomas, is a heck of a player. Seeing him for another three years, that’s kind of scary because he showed it all off tonight.”
Cade Roberts, who finished with eight points, kept the team fired up throughout the game. Beside a dunk in the second quarter, the six-foot-seven senior broke Manhattan’s single-season charges taken record. He has 13 on the year.
“That’s just an award that requires awareness and toughness and selflessness,” George said. “A lot of (6-foot-7) kids are out trying to block every shot, and he’s in there trying to create lulls and take charges … we’re just awful proud of him.”
The Indians went cold to close out the first half, only scoring one bucket in the last three and a half minutes and allowing Topeka High to go on a 13-2 run and draw within six, 26-20.
“We were doing a great job of playing with energy defensively, and some of that’s hard to maintain,” George said. “Plus, they have good offensive weapons. They’re going to go on a run at some point.”
Hudgins and Thomas traded buckets to start the second half before other Manhattan players got in on the action. Thomas was the only Trojan to score until Reece White got on the board with less than a minute left in the frame.
Hudgins’ best quarter was the third, when he recorded 11 points.
Thomas almost single-handedly pulled Topeka High within 10 in the fourth quarter, putting up eight points before any of his teammates score, but the Indians managed to pull away again.
“We strung together stops early, and we strung together stops late,” George said. “I thought we strung together stops when we needed to, and that was the biggest key in the margin of victory.”
Up next, Manhattan returns home for a Senior Night rematch with Highland Park on Friday.
“It’s going to be tough,” George said. “They’re a good team, and obviously they got us last time, but the fact that it’s Senior Night, that’s going to be hard on me. I don’t even want to think about the fact that it’s Senior Night yet.”