TOPEKA — Manhattan High coach Tim Brooks has implored his team over the last three weeks to not accept mediocrity and to learn to bounce back when the chips are down.
Against Washburn Rural on Tuesday, Manhattan did just that, rallying from an 11-point deficit in the second quarter, even taking the lead in the third and fourth quarters, but it wasn’t enough.
The Junior Blues made key plays down the stretch, even without big man Reed Rowell, while catching a few breaks along the way to win 45-40 against the Indians, sending Manhattan (6-7, 2-4 Centennial) to its third straight loss and its fourth in the last five games.
“We had some unfortunate things not go our way,” Brooks said. “We had some opportunities to make plays and the ball just sort of fumbled around out of our hands and things like that. But you create your own breaks, and there down the stretch, we didn’t.”
With less than two minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Manhattan trailed 38-37 after a Riley Landuyt 3-pointer, but got a good look from Payton Stephens in the paint. The shot came off the front of the rim, with Chris Hudgins and Winston Dimel each getting a hand on the rebound — unknowingly to the other. Both players started to lose their balance and let go of the ball as a Rural player scooped it up and got it up the floor quickly to Michael Singer in transition for an easy layup, turning what could have been an Indian put back to retake the lead into a three-point deficit.
On the next possession, Jonathon Taylor missed an open 3 and Hudgins was called for a foul on the rebound attempt, putting Singer on the line for a pair of free throws — both makes — to give Rural a 42-37 lead. A turnover on the next possession ended any hope of an Indians comeback in the final 30 seconds, though Jacob Holloway’s swish from long range helped make it close.
Brooks said he knew Rural would fight hard down the stretch, even after allowing Manhattan to dominate the third quarter and get themselves back into the game.
“At times we put ourselves in bad spots, at times we weren’t strong with the ball — all things we continue to talk about,” Brooks said. “We knew just from how they played in the fourth quarter and in overtime on Friday night that they were going to come out and be really physical, really aggressive defensively and we didn’t handle it very well.”
Stephens scored a team-high 13 points for Manhattan, with Hudgins adding nine and Holloway adding eight. Landuyt scored a game-high 16 points for Rural (8-5, 4-2).
Both teams went back and forth in the final quarter, with the Indians taking a 37-35 lead with three minutes to play. Brooks called for his team to run some clock, but instead the Indians turned it over, with Landuyt’s 3 proving to be the catalyst for a strong finish by Rural.
“We were going to try and reverse the ball, get some good movement on offense and make the defense work, and we decided to over-dribble,” Brooks said. “That’s something we talk about all the time.”
Manhattan forced six Rural turnovers in the third quarter, while allowing just four points with its zone defense. Those turnovers also led to easy baskets for the Indians, erasing the seven-point deficit at halftime and taking a three-point lead into the fourth quarter.
“Defensively, we got some steals out of some traps,” Brooks said. “Offensively, we moved the ball really well, we moved the ball inside the paint, we distributed the ball really well and we were unselfish. We made a nice little run there, which is good to see. We have those capabilities.”
Brooks said he’d like to see that sort of effort and fluidity from his team for the entire game, not just one quarter.
“We were all in tune, we were playing together as one, and that’s how it’s got to be,” he said. “It can’t be a part-time thing, it’s got to be an all-the-time thing.”
Also helping Manhattan get back in the game in the third were its made shots. Rural was especially effective in transition, beating the Indians back off long rebounds and getting easy layups. In the third, nothing came easy for the Junior Blues.
“Early on, we took some quick, rushed, contested shots and they were able to get out and run,” Brooks said. “We had some long shots, long rebounds and they had a lot of 2-on-1s, 3-on-2s, we just didn’t get back.”
Getting his first start of the season was guard Blake Saville, as Alex Stitt sat with a foot sprain. Brooks said there isn’t a firm time table for his return. Stitt moved into the starting lineup at the McPherson tournament after coming off the bench early in the season.
“I think it’s day-by-day and he wants to play Friday,” Brooks said. “But just the fact that he’s on crutches, I can’t see it.”
Manhattan hosts Topeka High Friday night, with the girls’ game scheduled for a 6 p.m. tip.