TOPEKA — After four quarters of back-and-forth, intense battling between two evenly-matched teams, Tuesday’s ending between Topeka West and Manhattan in overtime proved to be quite unusual.
Leading by one with 6 seconds left, Manhattan was set to inbound the ball from under the Chargers’ basket, when two Topeka West players crossed the endline and made contact with Manhattan’s inbounder. The play resulted in an automatic technical foul, which allowed the Indians to take a three-point lead and get the ball at midcourt, all but ending what had been a tight game all night.
Manhattan High coach Tim Brooks said it’s a familiar strategy from Topeka West coach Rick Bloomquist, who coached at Emporia for 21 years before retiring and returning to the bench this season in Topeka.
“I’ve seen Rick do that in the past, and they’re trying to get a delay of game,” Brooks said. “What the referee said was the player reached out and touched the ball while it was in our hands. A lot of times, they just try and knock the ball away from the basket after they score and they get a delay of game, and they can set up their defense.”
The mistake at the end cost Topeka West (1-14, 0-8 Centennial) a chance at its first league win in nearly two seasons. Leading 46-41 with two minutes to play in regulation, the Chargers nearly pulled it off.
“Topeka West is good,” Brooks said. “They’ve got some talented kids, and we had a hard time with what they were doing offensively and defensively. I think they’ve really bought in to the idea of playing an active zone, and it caused us some problems.”
Manhattan (8-7, 4-4) struggled for much of the night against West’s 1-3-1 zone, settling for 3-pointers and not always connecting on back cuts to the basket. But the Indians started to figure it out in the fourth quarter, while also dialing up the pressure on defense, causing West to give back its five-point lead and allow overtime.
Manhattan got the early edge in overtime with a bucket from Garrett Henry and a pair of free throws by Payton Stephens. But the Chargers didn’t give up, getting a shot by Mose Hugghis to drop to pull within two, before fouling Henry. The senior knocked down the first free throw and missed the second, giving Topeka West the chance to tie.
They again went to Hugghis who knocked down another jumper from inside the arc to make it 53-52 Manhattan with 31 seconds to play.
Jacob Holloway’s two free throws re-extended the Manhattan lead to three before Joshua Bailey’s shot in the paint with 6 seconds left cut the lead to one again. That’s when the technical foul ended West’s chances, though had they executed it correctly, it would have been sound strategy. Had the Chargers knocked the ball away from the official after making the basket, they would have received the delay of game warning and had the chance to stop the clock and set their press.
With the technical, MHS got two free throws for Holloway — both makes — as well as the ball. The Indians inbounded to Holloway, who was fouled and knocked down two final free throws to seal the game. Manhattan was 9 of 10 from the stripe in OT.
“It was nice to see, obviously, and it wasn’t easy, because behind the basket we were shooting on there were quite a few students and band members making a lot of noise,” Brooks said of his team’s free-throw shooting. “Our guys did a good job of focusing and believing in themselves and knocking them down.”
Late in the fourth quarter, Hugghis’ jumper three steps inside the 3-point arc swished to give West a 48-46 lead, but Manhattan came right back after a timeout, with Jonathon Taylor finding a cutting Stephens for an easy layup along the baseline.
Off the inbound, West was able to get past Manhattan’s pressure, but Hugghis’ shot at the buzzer was short, sending the game to overtime.
While most of the Indians struggled to find rhythm against West’s zone, Stephens was very effective, scoring 18 points and slipping through the middle of the defense often to tie his season high. Holloway’s 20 points on 5 of 11 from the field also proved to be a good zone-buster.
“We switched him from the high post to the low post there,” Brooks said of Stephens. “When we get the ball into the high post, Payton does such a good job of finding the open area. Usually whoever we have at the high post is a good passer, and they were able to find him for some good looks.”
While most teams don’t run zone exclusively, as the Chargers did most of the night, Stephens said when teams do, passes from the high post usually work well.
“We just find open areas and attack,” Stephens said. “Against a zone. We try to move it around — get the high-low action going.”
Hugghis finished with 17 for the Chargers, while Marcus Vaughn added 15. Bloomquist, who inherited an 0-21 team over the summer, was obviously disappointed about the loss after playing so well all night.
“To have a five-point lead in the last minute and a half, we just don’t understand how to play tough when it gets tough,” Bloomquist said. “We played so well, for Topeka West. It was a great basketball game from tipoff to the end, and it’s heartbreaking for the kids, because they deserve a win.”