TOPEKA — Manhattan High coach Scott Mall knew his team would battle hard for rebounds against the taller, bigger Seaman Vikings. What he didn’t know was how effective his team would be in doing so.
The Indians did well in the early going, taking a halftime lead in the process, but in the second half, the Vikings’ size wore them down, with Manhattan often limited to just one shot per possession as Seaman started to pull ahead in the fourth quarter, ultimately winning 41-37 in a tight game the whole way.
“I thought their guards, who are very good offensive rebounders, started going to the boards harder,” Mall said. “And we didn’t seem to match their intensity as well as we did early.”
With the loss, Manhattan (14-6, 8-5 Centennial) lost its chance to claim the top seed at sub-state, but the team had its chances to earn that cushy spot.
After trailing most of the game, Seaman took four-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Indians got an old-fashioned three-point play from Darby Price to pull within 38-37 with 22 seconds to play. After Seaman’s Rachel Heald hit 1 of 2 free throws, Manhattan had the ball down two with 16 seconds left, but Elayna Spilker’s drive through the lane was partially blocked — amidst contact — and Seaman got the ball. Tatyana Legette hit both her free throws to put the game out of reach as Kristen Thompson’s 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced harmlessly off the rim.
The loss was especially hard to take because of several questionable calls in the final few minutes.
MHS’ full-court press got what looked to be a backcourt violation on the Vikings, but referees insisted it was not, despite a frustrated Mall getting about as riled up as he ever gets. The officials also missed what looked like a travel late in the game, as well as the no-call on Spilker’s drive that could have tied it.
“Calls that coaches don’t agree with happen throughout the game,” Mall said. “They are just magnified in the last minutes of a close game. On their possession when we were down two and there were two no-calls, on back court and then on a potential travel, it would obviously have been great for us if those calls had gone our way.
“I thought Elayna got a great look on her penetration on the potential tying shot. She really deserved a chance to get that shot to go down.”
Price led Manhattan with 12 points, while Caroline Ballard and Spilker each had seven points. Seaman had two girls in double figures, with Legette and Heald each scoring 10.
Early on, Manhattan made it a point to crash the boards especially hard, getting to tipped balls and limiting Seaman to just one shot attempt per possession.
With that intensity came good results, as Manhattan got extra shots up and had several easy put backs from offensive rebounds.
“With their size advantage, rebounding was a big key,” Mall said. “I thought Darby and Caroline did a very good job of keeping balls alive until we could come up with the board, with occasional help from our perimeter players. We are not that big, so against a good rebounding team, we really need all five of our players to help on the boards on every possession.”
Ultimately, the game down to which team could make more shots. Against Seaman’s 2-3 zone, Manhattan got plenty of good looks early. Late in the game, the Indians still got decent looks, but went 2 of 11 from the floor in the last eight minutes to go with a 13 of 43 mark for the game.
Mall said he changed the team’s offensive approach in anticipation of the zone look.
“We thought Darby could be a factor in the top of third of the lane, and she did do a good job there,” Mall said. “She was also able to get the ball underneath to Caroline quite a bit. We got some good shots in those places, as well as some good perimeter shots from kick outs and from swinging the ball, but weren’t able to knock down enough of them. Par’s (McNair) pushing the ball hard also got us some good looks.”
As the second half wore on, the importance of winning the final game became more and more apparent. Rural’s games played on Saturday did not count for sub-state standings, so their record was locked in. With Wichita Heights down by 20 most of the night against Kapaun, that meant Manhattan could claim the top seed for itself — without tiebreakers — with a win.
But with the loss, the opposite rang true, as Rural claimed the top seed without playing, while Wichita Heights and Manhattan flipped a coin to see who would earn the two seed. The Indians lost that coin toss, settling for the No. 3 seed and a rematch with Derby, who they beat 60-36 in the season opener back in November. Win that, and the Indians would likely travel to Wichita Heights for a shot at the state tournament.
Rural, on the other hand, will likely breeze past Wichita Southeast in its first game before hosting Topeka High or Wichita East for a spot at state.
Manhattan came out and asserted itself in the first quarter, responding to an early deficit with a 7-0 run to take a 10-5 lead midway through the period. They led 15-11 at the end of the first, even after Kaylee Lambrecht’s 3-point swish at the buzzer.
In the second quarter, the Vikings were able to take a short-lived 20-19 lead with a 7-0 run midway through the quarter, but Manhattan knocked down a couple shots, including a layup by Amara Ehie to end the half leading 24-21.
“I thought we got a lot of good shots, we just weren’t able to get enough of them to go in,” Mall said. “I’m sure we rushed shots a couple of times, but the threat of their size had a lot to do with that.”
Manhattan hosts Derby (8-11) at 7 p.m. on Thurdsay.