Indians win comfortably against Panthers, 80-63

By Grant Guggisberg

For Winston Dimel and the other members of the Manhattan High football team that also play basketball for head coach Tim Brooks, beating Derby was important.

Among the large contingent of MHS students, it seemed to be a big deal, too, as they celebrated wildly all night long as the Indians won comfortably against the Panthers, 80-63.

Between two losses to Derby in basketball last season, including a season-ending loss at sub-state, and the football team’s loss in the second round of the playoffs at the hands of the Panthers, Dimel said Friday’s matchup had more on the line than the typical season-opening basketball game.

“It’s definitely nice to beat Derby — they ended our football season last year, our football season this year and two years ago in football, too,” Dimel said. “We just wanted to come out and play as hard as we could to get the win.”

From the opening tip, Manhattan (1-0) seemed to have little trouble against the Panthers, who pressed most of the game and in the process allowed the Indians to shoot 57 percent from the floor, many of which were uncontested layups.

After never scoring in the 80s a season ago, nobody would have guessed the Indians would have so much success offensively.

“A lot of it had to do with how they were guarding us,” Brooks said. “Once we got through the first wave of pressure, we were shooting layups. It won’t be like that all the time, but we wanted to attack their pressure.”

Unfortunately for Derby, their press yielded just 16 turnovers, several of which came in the fourth quarter after Manhattan emptied its bench. From the first quarter on, point guard Alex Stitt, who scored a game-high 27 points, was effective as a scorer and a distributor, finishing the night 8-of-11 shooting and a perfect 11 of 11 from the charity stripe.

“He’s a very good floor general,” Brooks said of Stitt. “He made good decisions for the most part, and he played with a lot of confidence. He shot the ball really well — I don’t think he even missed a free throw. A time or two against the press, he’d make a mistake, and he knew once he did it what he should have done. And that’s a sign of a good leader.”

Stitt proved to be the best solution for Manhattan against Derby’s press. When he came out of the game, some of the younger guards struggled with turnovers, which concerned Brooks.

Stitt said he was comfortable in a scoring role for the Indians, especially when the free throws kept coming.

“I work on free throws everyday, and it’s a big confidence boost to hit those,” he said. “Seeing the ball go through the net gets you going in every aspect of the game.”

While Stitt had a career-high game, teammate Payton Stephens was also effective, finishing with 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting while hauling in plenty of rebounds.

Dimel, who often plays alongside Stephens in the post, appreciates what the junior brings to the court.

“It’s nice — I love working with Payton,” Dimel said. “He has good eyes, and he gets good rebounds. He gets me open and the other bigs open because he’s such a good player.”

Manhattan built an 11-point lead in the first quarter that carried through to halftime, only to see it balloon to as many as 24 midway through the fourth before the Indians called off the dogs.

“We made a point to talk about getting the ball in the paint,” Brooks said. “We thought we’d have a pretty good advantage there, and it won’t be like that all the time. But tonight, we were able to stick it in and get to the free-throw line a ton, which is one of our goals. We want to get to the free-throw line, because that means we’re being aggressive offensively.”

Derby (0-1) was led by Jeremy Dunham and James Conley, who each scored 22 points. But the rest of the team combined to score only 19 as the team looks to rebuild after graduating most of the team that went to state a season ago.

Manhattan finished 25 of 36 (69 percent) from the free-throw line, while Derby was 14 of 23 (60 percent). The Panthers shot just 23 of 61 from the floor, a 37 percent clip.

Brooks said he would have liked to see his defense play better.

“We’ll take 80 points all the time,” Brooks said. “But I’d like to keep the other team in the 50s.”

Friday’s game also marked the varsity debut of several new players, in part because of the big lead and also due to injuries. Gabe Awbrey and Pierson McAtee both started, while sophomore Garrett Francis and freshman Trevor Hudgins both saw time off the bench as part of the varsity rotation. Cole Gritton, Cole Dillon, Grant Munson and Zach Francis all saw time at the end after the outcome had been decided.

“There were butterflies, which is expected,” Brooks said. “They made some mistakes, but if they go out there and play solid, they’ll continue to stay on the floor.”

Manhattan travels to Dodge City next Friday before playing at Great Bend on Saturday in the first chance at back-to-back games.

“Next week worries me because we’re playing back to back, and as many minutes as our top six guys log, it could be tough,” Brooks said. “But hopefully we get Darian back, that will help us out with the depth part and we’ll get some of those younger guys ready.”

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