DERBY — Regardless of score or opponent, the Manhattan High boys’ basketball team wasn’t going to quit.
Facing top-seeded Derby on Friday, the Indians knew they were going to be up against a talented team expecting to get to the state tournament.
By the fourth quarter, the Indians faced an 11-point deficit, but kept playing hard until the final buzzer sounded, losing 66-57.
“Nobody wants to lose, ever — especially in the playoffs when there are no second chances,” Manhattan’s Jonathon Taylor said. “If we’re going to lose, we’re not going to let them kick us while we’re down. We’re going to keep fighting no matter what, no matter how big the hole is.”
While the Indians faced a fourth-quarter deficit, they weren’t always playing from behind. Manhattan took the lead in the second quarter and led by one at halftime. In the third, Derby started to get the edge on the Indians, holding Manhattan scoreless the first four minutes of the quarter while going on a 6-0 run to take a 29-24 lead. Derby would go on to take a 36-30 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
“I thought we came out in the second half and we weren’t as aggressive as we were in the first half,” Manhattan coach Tim Brooks said. “But our kids showed a lot of fight, and a lot of will and desire to win.”
At the start of the fourth quarter, Manhattan found itself down 11 almost immediately after a 3-pointer by Taylor Schieber and a bucket by Tyler Chambers. But the Indians responded, with Jacob Holloway swishing the team’s first 3-point attempt of the game and Jonathon Taylor getting a basket off a Derby turnover to make it 41-35.
Brooks said it wasn’t his team’s intention to avoid taking 3s until late in the game, but more the way Derby was guarding the perimeter.
“We didn’t want to settle for contested shots, wherever they came from,” he said. “If it just so happened to be that it was from 3, then that’s what it was.”
On the following play, the Indians made a mistake defensively, leaving Schieber, who had already knocked down three treys at that point, wide open for an easy 3-pointer while robbing Manhattan of any momentum it had gained.
By the 3:30 mark, Derby had regained a double-digit lead, with MHS doing everything it could to claw its way back into the game. The Indians began fouling to extend the game at the two-minute mark, but back-to-back turnovers by MHS only served to pad the Derby lead. Derby was 16 of 21 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
Taylor was the star of the fourth for the Indians, taking advantage of a Derby team that didn’t want to foul near the rim, as the senior dazzled with some nifty moves and shot fakes around the basket. All told, Taylor scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth as he fought to keep Manhattan within arm’s reach.
“Our kids just battled,” Brooks said. “We were undersized inside, but we played physical. At times, it hurt us, because sometimes they called some quick, questionable calls, but that’s the way we play. That’s how we’ve been successful.”
Taylor was the only Indian with double-figure scoring, but Holloway and Payton Stephens each had nine and Darian Taylor and Winston Dimel each added eight.
Schieber ended the night with a game-high 30 points on 7-of-12 shooting for Derby. Chambers was also in double figures with 12.
“He’s really good,” Brooks said of Schieber. “And it doesn’t matter what defense you play. They run a lot of good stuff to him. He’s good with the ball in his hands too, he’s not just a catch-and-shoot guy.”
All in all, Manhattan was outscored 25-6 from the charity stripe, which proved to be the difference in the game, even before the Indians began fouling late.
In the first half, Derby got off to a hot start, getting four free throws in the first minute of the game by Chambers as Manhattan struggled. But the Indians responded from there, getting Stephens going with a pair of baskets midway through the first quarter. The Indians got a layup on an inbounds play under their own basket from Dimel at the buzzer to make it 13-12 Derby after one quarter.
In the second, Manhattan utilized its 3-2 zone to throw Derby off, taking its first lead at the 6:19 mark on a layup by Alex Stitt that drew a timeout by Derby coach Brett Flory. Manhattan got a pair of layups by Dimel in the final minute of the half, and took a 24-23 lead to halftime, despite Schieber’s 3-pointer at the buzzer that cut into the advantage.
Flory said the two team’s meeting in the season opener didn’t factor much into Friday’s game.
“No team’s the same team they were on November 30th,” Flory said. “The first game was irrelevant. I’m sure they studied game film on our recent games and we studied film on their recent games. They’re a lot better and we’re a lot different, so I don’t think it meant all that much.”
Brooks knew his team would play better this time around after a long season.
“That’s what good teams do, they get better throughout the year,” Brooks said. “There was no way that we were not going to be better than we were in November.”
The team was disappointed to see its season end, but senior Chris Hudgins knows the Indians gave it their all.
“We’re a tough, gritty team and we’re always going to fight and give 110 percent all the time, and I feel like we did that tonight,” Hudgins said. “It’s tough. It sucks. But life goes on and the sun is going to shine the next day. I love each and every one of these guys and I know they’re going to keep their heads up.”
Jonathon Taylor echoed Hudgins’ sentiment.
“I’m really proud of the way the team came together throughout the year, because there were multiple times during the season when we could have quit, or got upset and stopped playing hard, but we never quit,” Taylor said. “This is the toughest team I’ve ever played with in my life. They never quit.”
Brooks said this season has been one of the most rewarding for him as a coach.
“Without a doubt, and I told them just now, it’s been the most rewarding year I’ve had, and it’s because of the team’s chemistry and camaraderie,” he said. “The seniors are the reason why. That’s such a special group.”