EMPORIA — Manhattan head coach Scott Mall knows his team has the most success when it controls the tempo and the flow of the game on both ends of the floor.
Just weeks after routing Emporia by 26 at home, the Manhattan High girls’ basketball team got away from that mentality in Friday’s return game, instead squeaking out a 50-41 overtime win against the Spartans while allowing Emporia to keep the score close all night.
“We wanted to control how the game went, and we didn’t,” Mall said. “Offensively, they came out and were very patient. They waited until they were in a good spot and we weren’t and took advantage of it early.
“We could have done so many things offensively to get us in more control early, but we threw some passes that weren’t good passes, or didn’t capitalize — we didn’t hit any shots from the outside.”
Manhattan (9-1, 7-0 Centennial) led 34-32 in the final seconds of regulation and could have expanded its lead, but instead Emporia (6-4, 3-3) got the ball back and Raegan Sanchez hit a long jumper at the buzzer with both feet inside the 3-point line that forced overtime.
The shot came after three consecutive timeouts by the Spartans to set up their offense for a potential game-winning shot.
“I wanted to go out there with five guards to defend them, but our first goal was to stop Sanchez from getting penetration, which is tough,” Mall said of the last play. “We did, but when we helped, somebody gets a shot. But our first goal was to make sure they didn’t get something at the basket.”
The game-tying jumper came after both teams squandered chances to win in the final minute. Emporia missed 3 of 4 free throws in the final 30 seconds, while Manhattan went 1 for 3 over the same span.
Once overtime started, however, the Indians were efficient against the same Emporia zone defense that had baffled them the first 32 minutes, with Amara Ehie hitting a pair of layups and the rest of the team adding free throws to run out to a 41-34 lead before Emporia made it interesting in the final minute.
“We kept talking about what was open, there was some stuff open on the back side, we switched our offensive set a little bit, but we didn’t see it,” Mall said. “We kept forcing the ball somewhere else or taking a different shot. But in overtime, we saw it, got Amara the ball underneath and she put it in the hole, the next time we got it into Caroline, and those were big baskets to start the overtime.”
Sanchez scored all seven of Emporia’s points in overtime and cut the lead to three on several occasions, but freshman Gigi McAtee knocked down six consecutive free throws to keep the Indians ahead for good.
“Huge off the bench was Gigi McAtee,” Mall said. “She comes in and hits six straight free throws to put the game away. How many freshmen who don’t play varsity can come in and do that?”
Manhattan was led in scoring by Ballard and Darby Price, who each finished with 14 points, while first-time starter Amara Ehie, who got the nod in place of the injured Savannah Roberts, scored 11.
“Darby gave us some big points early when we were slow starting, and was big on the boards late,” Mall said. “Caroline worked hard all over the place and hit some tough shots. And Amara stepped in — she’s more comfortable not starting, but in the second half she really picked it up and took the ball to the hole.”
Emporia was led by Sanchez’s 13 points, with Whitney Wilhite chipping in 12.
While Emporia’s deliberate offensive pace and zone defense kept the score low, Mall said he was pleased for the most part with the team’s shot selection.
“I really thought we did a good job against the zone both against Washburn Rural and here,” he said. “We got good shots, but we have to score inside against Emporia. We did some, but we need a higher percentage. And we didn’t hit any from outside.”
Early on, Manhattan struggled to contain Wilhite, with Sanchez doing the bulk of the offensive damage late. Mall said the team really missed Roberts’ defensive contributions, though he said the junior should be ready to go in time for next week’s Mid-America Classic in McPherson.
“It really hurt us tonight not having Savannah Roberts,” Mall said. “She’s a big defensive player for us. Last time she got a lot of offensive rebounds against them, and she can hit those mid-range shots that we’ll get against a zone.”
Manhattan, which earned the No. 1 seed in McPherson, opens against Hays (0-10) on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. Should they advance in the winner’s bracket, they’d play Friday night at 6 p.m. against the winner of Shawnee Mission South (5-4) and Wichita Northwest (5-5).