MCPHERSON — With an 8-0 run and an 11-point lead in the first two minutes of the third quarter, everything seemed to be going Manhattan High’s way against Lawrence Free State.
Then the Firebirds started making shots.
Free State rattled off a 12-0 run of its own to take the lead from the Indians in the fifth-place game at the McPherson Invitational Basketball Tournament on Saturday, ultimately winning 59-52.
After the game, Manhattan coach Tim Brooks wasn’t happy, saying his team had everything it needed to win the game after taking the lead in the third quarter.
“I think we got comfortable,” Brooks said. “We talked about whoever goes on a run is going to win this thing, because it was back and forth in the first half. I think we got complacent — we quit guarding, we quit playing good team defense and we turned it over.”
Despite giving back the lead, Manhattan had its chances to win in the fourth quarter, but didn’t have an answer for Free State’s Cole Moreano, who finished with a game-high 18 points, including four 3s. Moreano’s 3 from the top of the key at the 5:09 mark of the fourth gave Free State a 47-44 lead that the Firebirds would not relinquish.
“We went behind screens instead of going on top on him,” Brooks said. “We had possessions where we’d run down the floor and not know where are man was.”
Later in the quarter, trailing 49-44, Manhattan got shots for Jonathon Taylor, Jacob Holloway and Payton Stephens, but couldn’t knock them down, forcing them to foul and try and play catch-up. Taylor converted a traditional three-point play with 46 seconds to cut the Free State lead to four, and the Firebirds missed two front-end free throws to give Manhattan a chance, but turnovers and bad defense in the final minute sealed the Indians’ fate.
Brooks said he wants to see his team play with maximum effort for the entire game.
“We’ve talked about not wanting to be mediocre,” Brooks said. “Right now at 6-5, we’re mediocre. We play hard some of the time, we communicate some of the time, we’re coachable some of the time, and it’s got to be all the time. Good teams do that stuff all the time.”
Holloway scored 15 points for Manhattan on 5 of 11 shooting from beyond the arc. Payton Stephens also scored 15 for the Indians, with Taylor scoring 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Brooks was pleased with Taylor’s play, though he had just two assists and two turnovers.
“He’s been looking to score a little more, he’s taking what the defense is giving him,” Brooks said. “And he’s averaging right around five rebounds a game, which is pretty good. I like to see him get defensive rebounds and push the ball up the floor. He’s very good at that.”
For Free State, head coach Chuck Law was proud of the way his team responded after Manhattan’s third-quarter run.
“We got slapped in the face there to start the second half — we haven’t responded well to that all year long, so I don’t know what it was,” Law said. “It was them — I think they just gut-checked, decided amongst themselves that they weren’t going to go down without a fight the way we have when teams have done that to us all year.”
Law said his team needed to play its best half of the season to come out on top after spotting the Indians an 11-point lead.
“We made some shots, which was critical when you’re potentially getting run out of the gym, which we were there in the third quarter,” he said. “And the last 12 minutes, we played the best basketball we’ve played all year, which we had to do.
“We just happened to catch fire at the right time.”
In other tournament games Saturday, Hutchinson beat Maize in the seventh-place game 61-59, while Wichita Heights took third with a 54-51 win over Blue Valley West. Host McPherson won the tournament with a 53-40 win over previously undefeated Shawnee Mission East in the championship game.