For a brief couple of minutes in the first quarter, the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team looked like it might have its hands full against Junction City.
It didn’t last long.
Manhattan started slow, but finished in a big way, routing the visiting Junction City Blue Jays, 71-21, to stay undefeated in Centennial League play and also clinch the top seed at sub-state in two weeks.
The Indians trailed 5-0 in the first quarter, but outscored the Blue Jays 33-2 the rest of the half and continued their dominance into the second half, despite playing several of their younger players.
“Early, we didn’t look good against their pressure,” Manhattan head coach Scott Mall said. “Offensively, we had trouble seeing what they were doing and what was going to be open. They hit some shots, but I thought defensively, we were pretty consistent throughout.”
Darby Price continued her recent tear for Manhattan (16-1, 10-0 Centennial) with 15 points and nine rebounds, including a pair of 3-pointers.
“She’s really done a good job,” Mall said of Price. “She hit a couple 3s tonight, which she loves. They were good looks and she got herself set and stuck them in. She did a good job on the boards and she’s still passing the ball well.”
Caroline Ballard finished with 14 points with Amara Ehie adding nine points. Twelve players scored for the Indians.
Junction City (3-14, 1-9) was led by Kealee Rains and Kori Kamm, who scored nine and eight points, respectively.
Part of Manhattan’s success Tuesday came from taking care of the ball. In the first meeting between the two teams, the Indians had 17 first-half turnovers. In the rematch, Manhattan coughed it up just three times in the first half while building its lead.
“Last time I thought we kept our eyes down too much, instead of looking up and finding the open people,” Mall said. “We stressed that a lot in practice, and I thought we did a better job of finding that open girl and getting the ball to her.”
In the opening minutes, Junction City got five quick points from Rains to lead 5-0 in the first three minutes, but was outscored 33-2 the rest of the half, going scoreless for more than 10 minutes before Kamm hit a basket to make it 23-7 in the second quarter.
The Indians scored at will in the first half, taking advantage of 12 Junction City turnovers while sharing the ball well and finding easy baskets on offense. The Blue Jays finished the half 3 of 18 (16 percent) while not knocking down the only good looks they could get.
In the second half, Manhattan kept pouring it on, outscoring Junction by 12 in each of the final two quarters to win going away.
Manhattan shot 27 of 51 (53 percent) from the field, while Junction City finished 9 of 46 (19 percent). The Indians outscored Junction City 12-1 from the free-throw line and outrebounded the Blue Jays 36-25.
Manhattan travels to Highland Park (4-12, 2-8) on Friday before finishing off its regular season with a tough week, hosting defending league champion Hayden (13-3, 6-3) on Tuesday and the other currently undefeated league team, Seaman (15-2, 10-0), the following Friday.
Top seed clinched
While the Centennial League race may go down to the final night of the regular season, Manhattan clinched the top seed at sub-state with Tuesday’s win. Second-place Washburn Rural, now at 12-5, can not catch Manhattan. Last year the Indians earned a No. 3 seed, with Wichita Heights and Rural finishing ahead in a race that went down to the final game.
“It was nice to have it clinched so early,” Mall said. “With our sub-state, that doesn’t happen very often. Usually it’s a battle right into the last week. Now it’s important for us to keep building so we’re at our peak when we get to sub-state.