It’s not surprising Manhattan High assistant boys’ basketball coach Benji George might point to a lack of focus as the reason for the team’s current two-game slide in Centennial League play.
The Indians played in three games last week, two of which came against tough opponents, while also dealing with snow days, missed practices and players leaving the team. All of that piles on top of the suspension of former coach Tim Brooks and the cloud of uncertainty that hung over the situation for two weeks.
With Brooks moving aside and the remaining players looking to finish strong, the opponent on the schedule couldn’t line up much better.
Manhattan (10-6, 6-4 Centennial) hosts rival Junction City tonight.
The Blue Jays (5-10, 3-5) were mired in a six-game losing streak that began in the first meeting between the two schools on Jan. 17 before beating Washburn Rural Friday night to bring some momentum into tonight’s matchup.
“One thing about playing a rivalry, it helps you refocus after a two-game losing streak, and so it may be a blessing for us that we have Junction coming up, so our guys can be focused,” George said following Friday’s loss to Shawnee Heights. “We know they’ll give energy (Saturday) in practice and Monday in practice and get ready to go for Tuesday night.”
The last meeting with Junction City came down to the wire, with Manhattan pulling out a 35-32 win sealed with a defensive stand in the final 2 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter.
George said the familiarity, in addition to the rivalry, will make tonight’s game difficult, despite the Blue Jays low winning percentage.
“We know each other so well, so it’s definitely going to be a battle, and we know that, because all our recent games have been battles,” he said. “I know our guys are ready in the locker room — they were already starting to talk about Junction.”
On the girls’ side, the Indians defeated Junction City 63-43 the first go-round, but Junction City cut the deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter and stayed within arm’s reach until the final few minutes. Manhattan girls’ head coach Scott Mall said his team won’t overlook the Blue Jays in tonight’s rematch.
“I thought they played well against us last time,” Mall said. “They were so aggressive last time — we’ll need to be ready for that. And they’re getting some shots down from the outside, which they didn’t last time. That makes a big difference.”
The Blue Jays (3-13, 1-8) have lost 10 straight coming into the rivalry game, with their last win coming against Highland Park on Jan. 10.
Mall wants to see his team limit its turnovers after coughing up the ball 23 times against Junction City earlier in the season.
“If we take care of the ball better than last time and convert, I think we’ll be alright,” Mall said. “But that’s a big thing to do.”
Tip off is set for 6 p.m. in Manhattan.