For the entire bus ride home last Friday, Manhattan High senior Brandon Payne said he thought his team would be traveling to Derby on Thursday.
Not knowing the record of Wichita Southeast, which finished its season losing three times in the last week to duplicate the record of the MHS boys’ basketball team (9-11), a repeat trip to Topeka High wasn’t even in the back of his mind.
“We did think we were playing Derby until the news about coin toss came out,” Payne said of learning of a coin flip on Saturday. “It’s kind of rough to find out you are playing that other team.”
But the situation of this year’s sub-state seeding has Payne remembering his sophomore year, when the team made it to state. The Indians were expected to be one-and-done, but upset a pair of teams to advance to the Class 6A state tournament.
The MHS senior said he has talked to teammates about the path to state.
“I just say that in basketball it’s easy to get to state, you just win two games and you go to state, ” he said. “Upsets aren’t rare in basketball and it’s not hard to do it, just like in my sophomore year when we pulled it together at the right time and made it.”
So, the Indians will be on the road on Thursday, playing the same team that beat them 64-42 last Friday, and looking to keep the season alive as long as possible.
Payne, who said he is undecided about his post high school plans at this point and hopes to play basketball, said they might have an advantage in playing the Trojans again.
“I think Topeka High might look over us because they beat us by 20 or so, and we might use that to our advantage a little bit,” he said. “They came out a little harder than they usually would because it was senior night, so it might not be the same this time.”
MHS coach Tim Brooks said the Indians will have to do some different things defensively against Topeka.
“We’re going to have to guard them different and I think we won’t play as much man and hopefully we can take care of the ball,” he said. “We gave up a lot of easy shots and easy rebounds, and if we can minimize that than we can make it closer and we will see what happens.”
Payne is the most experienced player the Indians returned to the floor this season, being the only one that played in the state tournament in 2010.
After spending time in the lineup as a sophomore, Brooks said the expectations rose significantly for Payne. After a good junior season, though, Payne got off to a slow start for the Indians this season.
Brooks said he thinks it might have been tough on the senior since he was the top scorer the team had coming back.
“His senior year probably hasn’t been what he has liked, but when you are the top returning scorer on a team, other coaches really get after defensive plans and ways to keep the ball out of your hands,” Brooks said.
With much of the attention on Payne, fellow senior Keaton Barragar flourished for the Indians for the first six weeks of the season. But as teams began to focus on him, Brooks said things opened back up for Payne.
The MHS coach said Payne has done a good job in a supportive role of Barragar. The senior said it has been about improving his confidence on the floor.
“I think Keaton has definitely stepped up and he has worked hard on his shooting game his whole high school career and it has finally paid off for him,” Payne said. “I hope it isn’t that the whole pressure has fallen on to him, but he has taken a little bit of pressure off of me and I definitely think I’m getting a little more confidence.”
Brooks said he has noticed the extra confidence from Payne, especially in recent games.
“Lately he has delivered and its good to see as a coach because when we are struggling, we need a senior to take over, and he has been that guy,” he said.
Payne offers the Indians a dual-threat as an outside scorer and a penetrator, possessing the ability to drive inside and finish at the basket. Brooks said he is capable of shooting 40 percent from the arc, but his ability to finish with contact in the lane is what makes him dangerous to opponents.
Payne said the success of his game is about playing smart.
“I think it’s always just been about picking my spots, and only shooting when it’s the right time, knowing where I should be shooting from and knowing if I should attack or not,” he said.
The winner of Thursday’s 7 p.m. game between Topeka High and Manhattan will play the winner of Derby and Wichita Southeast on Saturday night in Topeka.