MHS boys basketball gets back to winning ways against Junction City

By Maria McIlwain

Manhattan head boys basketball coach Benji George didn’t think Friday night’s game against Junction City could have gone much better.

The Indians beat the Blue Jays, 57-30, returned to winning ways at 3-1 and opened Centennial League play with a win ahead of Christmas break.
George thought his team’s “phenomenal” defense set the tone.

“We created turnovers, which led to some easy offense, which was huge, especially early,” George said. “And then, what I thought was the biggest key was I thought we held our own on the boards.”

Manhattan outrebounded Junction City, 28-26, and forced 23 turnovers, including six steals.

George added that he was happy with how the Indians got Junction City’s AJ Dickerson into foul trouble early while managing their own fouls. Elijah Gardner led the way in scoring for Junction City with 12 points.

Tommy Ekart came out strong in the first quarter, recording 10 points in the first frame. He only recorded two in the second quarter, but it didn’t bother him that much. The senior finished with 16 points.

“We really wanted to come out as seniors because this is the last time we get to play our rival at home, so we all just wanted to play as good as we could,” Ekart said.

George said Ekart sitting for long periods during the second frame was normal.

“Tommy plays so hard. He plays harder than anybody I’ve ever coached, so we have to work in breaks for him kind of as an investment in the fourth quarter,” George said.

Trevor Hudgins, who was relatively quiet in the first half, came alive after halftime. The senior point guard recorded 18 points, eight of them in the third quarter.

“They’re a great one-two punch,” George said. “(Hudgins’) biggest problem in the first half was just finishing, and we talked about that at halftime, just an understanding of it doesn’t matter how cool it looks, you’ve got to get the ball through the net.”

Hudgins was able to better read the defense in the second half.

“I knew they were face-guarding me, the first half, but I was just trying to be smarter about how I approached offense during the second half,” Hudgins said.

However, Hudgins liked seeing his teammates step up in the first half.

“It makes me happy,” Hudgins said. “I love seeing my guys succeed in basketball or anything. It’s fun to watch.”

That one-two punch is something that’s developed over the years, Ekart said.

“Me and Trevor have been playing together since eighth grade, and we’ve developed good chemistry together,” Ekart said. “We know the game, and we know where each other’s going to be at and we really like to find each other.”

As the game went on George put in some of his younger players. He liked what he saw from them, especially Dawson Stewart, Carson Marsh and Micah Wiggins.

“I wanted to get guys court time and game experience because that’s where they learn the most,” George said. “All the juniors, especially, getting them on the court I thought was key.”

Having a crazy crowd behind them helped the Indians, Ekart said.

“Our crowd is one of the best in Kansas, by far, and it’s always a factor,” he said.

George feels his team is in a good place before taking a break. The Indians’ next game is at home against Topeka High. Their matchup with Dodge City originally scheduled for Saturday was postponed because of weather.

“We’re not probably going to work as much on the defensive end of the court because I don’t think that’s where we need the most work right now,” George said. “We’re going to work on half-court offense and being able to execute in pressure situations.”

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