TOPEKA — When facing Washburn Rural, stopping Erika Lane has to be the top priority defensively.
Lane went for 21 against Manhattan High Tuesday night, knocking down shots from the perimeter and slashing to the basket against the Indian defense while leading her team to a 44-34 win.
“When she’s shooting well, she can just do so many things,” Manhattan coach Scott Mall said. “She goes to the basket hard and can finish, she does a great job of passing the ball up the floor, which really sets up their breakout game. When she’s hitting from the outside…it opens up a lot for them.”
No other Junior Blue scored more than seven points in the game with Lane firing on all cylinders. Kristen Thompson was charged with the task of guarding the Rural standout, but didn’t get enough help from her teammates, especially early.
“Kristen does a really good job of stopping penetration, and she’s also the taller of our guards, so when they shoot the ball, she can get a hand up over the top,” Mall said. “But it’s a lot to ask — I thought we didn’t help her enough in the first half.”
Lane scored 18 of her points in the first half on 6 of 11 shooting, including a pair of 3s. But Manhattan stayed in it by containing the rest of the Junior Blues, who were less accurate shooting the ball and finished the half 2 of 12 from the floor. They trailed at halftime 26-19 and immediately cut the lead to five to start the third quarter, but couldn’t get over the hump.
They played back and forth with Rural, getting no closer than seven in the fourth quarter before the rest of the Junior Blues started to heat up. Rural started to run clock at about the four minute mark in the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead, making it extremely hard for Manhattan to try and cut into the deficit.
“As poor as our defense was in the first half, we were still in it,” Mall said. “Even into the fourth quarter, we were in it. Offensively, in the second half, we just didn’t capitalize. We had looks, did some good things, got what we wanted, but didn’t finish off plays.”
Making things worse for Manhattan was a foot injury to Elayna Spilker midway through the third quarter that made offense that much harder for the Indians. Spilker did eventually return midway through the fourth quarter, but wasn’t herself. She scored a team-high 10 points, but did not have any points after halftime.
“Her foot was hurting her quite a bit, or she wouldn’t have come out,” Mall said. “We taped it up and she was feeling a little better, but still not anywhere near 100 percent.”
Darby Price finished with seven points and seven rebounds in the game, but had her hands full against Rural’s Courtney Winkley.
Junior Blues coach Kevin Bordewick said the gameplan coming in was to try and stop Spilker, but his team didn’t do a good job with it.
“We always try to pick on a couple kids,” Bordewick said. “Elayna Spilker, she had a tremendous first half and I didn’t know what we could do to stop her, so we tried doubling up if she got past our first line of defense and keep her from driving. She killed us in the first half. She’s a good player.”
While Manhattan’s only lead of the game came in the first quarter, they did manage to use a 5-0 run late in the second quarter to pull within two. But Lane rattled off a layup and made three free throws in the final two minutes to give Rural its seven-point halftime lead.
“When Erika Lane scores like that, it’s really tough,” Mall said. “She was on, and she made great play after great play in the first half, and that put us in a hole, and defensively, we didn’t play as well in the first half as we needed to play.”
Manhattan’s defense didn’t help on Lane enough, and fell asleep several times after made baskets, giving up easy layups on the other end.
“When we get the ball and get it flared out, we’ve got a couple kids that are fast and we try to look at that,” Bordewick said. “I think we’re starting to run a little bit better and recognize when we can run.”
Bordewick was pleased with the way Lane has played lately, despite not shooting the ball from long range as well so far this season. She finished 2 of 4 from 3 against the Indians.
“She’s a good player, and now she’s becoming a great player — because to me, great players make others better around the,” he said. “And I think she’s doing that. I know she hit some 3s, which is always nice, but what she was doing was all within the flow of what our team was trying to get done.”