To Manhattan head coach Benji George, Wednesday’s state quarterfinal came down to one thing: free throws.
The Indians, who shot 71 percent from the charity stripe all year, were 10-of-21 in Wednesday’s 51-44 overtime loss to Lawrence.
“To blame a loss on any one person or moment in time is against our culture,” he said. “It was throughout the game free throws. From the first ones we shot to the last ones we shot, we didn’t do a good job from the free-throw line, which is so against who we are because we’re the second-best free-throw shooting team in school history. If you would have told me we were going to shoot 21 free throws, I would have said we were going to win the game.”
Cade Roberts was at the line with just over one second left in the fourth quarter, but missed both free throws, leaving the score tied at 39 and sending the game to overtime.
Manhattan struggled mightily out of the gate, with Lawrence jumping out to a 5-0 lead. The Indians didn’t get on the board until a Trevor Hudgins bucket with two minutes and 48 seconds left in the opening period. Hudgins led Manhattan scorers with 19 points. The senior point guard also recorded a team-leading 10 rebounds.
Much of the Lions’ success was thanks to 6-foot-7, 300-pound Kobe Buffalomeat. The senior led all scorers with 23 points used his size to muscle his way to the basket throughout the game. He also led the Lions with seven rebounds as they outrebounded Manhattan, 35-19.
“I thought we could have done a better job with our guards crowding,” George said. “When the ball went in to (Buffalomeat), we stood, and we can’t isolate our post players with him.”
Manhattan started the second quarter strong, going on a 6-0 run after a Buffalomeat layup. But the Indians went cold from there as Lawrence used a 10-2 run to grab a double-digit lead. The Indians trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half before heading into the break down 11.
Defense, which was solid for both teams throughout the afternoon, was stellar for Manhattan in the third quarter. The Indians held Lawrence scoreless for the first six minutes and 35 seconds, gave up just four points and none from Buffalomeat.
“Our backs were about as against the wall as they could possibly be,” George said. “We did a great job of creating turnovers, I thought we fought a little bit harder. I thought we did a better job on (Buffalomeat). The turnovers got us going and really got us into a flow. There was no flow that first 16 minutes.”
Throughout the period, Manhattan chipped away at the Lions’ lead, trailing by one or two points on multiple occasions and trailed, 30-28, at the third buzzer. The back-and-forth continued into the fourth quarter, as five straight points from Hudgins gave the Indians a one-point lead for a few moments. Buffalomeat took a two-point lead for Lawrence with a free throw and layup, but Josh Haus tied it up one last time at 39 with two minutes and 16 seconds left.
Lawrence held onto the ball for much of the remaining time, looking for the game-winning shot. However, after a steal by Luke Saville, Roberts was fouled and found himself at the line.
“They were really taking advantage of the fact that there’s no shot clock,” George said, “and that’s hard … they got us spread out, but we did a good job of pressuring the basketball and deflecting passes and creating turnovers.”
Lawrence opened overtime with a 10-2 run, eight of those points coming from Bufffalomeat. A bucket by Roberts and free throw by Hudgins made it a three-point game with 37 seconds left, but Clarence King hit four of six free throws in the final seconds to put the game away.
Manhattan finished its season 18-5 with its third-straight Centennial League title, while Lawrence plays the winner of Olathe Northwest and Blue Valley North at 4:45 p.m. on Friday.
George said Manhattan’s six seniors — Hudgins, Roberts, Saville, Haus, Ian Trapp and Tommy Ekart — was one of the winningest groups in school history.
“They won more games over three years than any three-year period in school history,” George said. “They’ve accomplished things we’ve never done before … and to do all that with that big of a target on their back, especially these last two years, I’m just incredibly proud of them.”