Minus the first quarter, Manhattan basically played Shawnee Heights even the rest of the night on the road.
Unfortunately, the first quarter saw the T-Birds take an 18-8 lead in what was essentially the difference as the Indians lost their second straight game Friday night at Shawnee Heights, 69-58.
Manhattan co-interim coach Benji George, who will share coaching duties with Shane Sieben the rest of the season in the wake of head coach Tim Brooks’ resignation Friday morning, said the team is still working on solving its first-quarter woes.
“We just got done talking about that the locker room, which was getting our first-quarter problems fixed,” George said. “We’ve got to get everybody on the same page and put our heads together about how to come out and start games better, because it’s becoming a real issue for us.”
After trailing by 10 points or more most of the first three quarters, the Indians got a rally going midway through the third, capped by a 3-pointer by Grant Munsen, the first of his varsity career, to cut the Shawnee Heights lead to four at 40-36.
“Grant definitely has the ability, and I’ve talked with him personally about it, just having confidence and stepping into that role,” George said of Munsen’s shooting ability. “And he made those steps tonight, we thought. Our goal there was to get it to five, and that shot did that — it was a big lift for us.”
The rally was immediately quashed, however, with Shawnee Heights ending the third quarter on a 6-1 run before scoring the first seven points of the fourth quarter to push the lead back to 16 and take away any momentum the Indians had left.
“They’re so talented offensively, just a couple mental lapses or negative plays really lets things snowball, and I think that’s what happened,” George said. “We didn’t get stops when we needed to and had a couple easy turnovers, and before you know it, they’re back up by 13. We did a good job fighting back after that point, but it was just too much to overcome.”
Manhattan (10-6, 6-4 Centennial) had four players in double figures, with Pierson McAtee scoring 12 points, Alex Stitt and Gabe Awbrey each scoring 11 and Payton Stephens scoring 10. Stephens also grabbed eight rebounds.
Shawnee Heights (11-5, 8-2) was led by Jovan Barksdale’s 25 points, with Braeson Sester adding 14, Tevin Downing with 11 and Tony Barksdale chipping in 10.
Early in the game, Manhattan struggled to contain the outside shooting of the T-Birds. Shawnee Heights finished the first period 4 of 5 from long range, while going on an 11-0 run, but cooled off in the second quarter.
The Indians trailed 18-8 after one and 30-19 heading to halftime, but things could have been worse. Manhattan trailed by as many as 16 in the second quarter, but got good contribution from freshman Trevor Hudgins, who scored five straight points to lift the team heading into halftime while finishing with a career-high seven points.
“He’s been playing much better in practice and in all phases,” George said. “He really goes out there and plays hard, and creates some offense with his defense, and has some talent. He stepped up big in a big role for us tonight.”
While Manhattan’s multiple efforts to close the deficit were all answered by the T-Birds, George said he was proud of the team’s never-say-die attitude.
“They showed some heart and some resiliency,” he said. “And we told them that - we’re proud of the fight they showed. We know guys are getting tired out there, but for the most part they did a good job fighting through it.”
George said the mood in the locker room is one of disappointment, but with Junction City coming up on Tuesday, focus shouldn’t be an issue.
“Right now they’re upset after a tough loss, but I think with Junction coming up, they’re already starting to think about that,” he said. “And the last thing we want to do is continue this into the Junction game. It may be good medicine for us just to get refocused.”
Manhattan hosts Junction City on Tuesday in a rivalry matchup.
Taylor misses game
Senior forward Darian Taylor, who moved into a starting role after Winston Dimel underwent shoulder surgery over the holiday break, was not in the building at Friday’s game. He and Bret Fehr both were unhappy with the way administrators handled the situation with Brooks. Fehr quit a week ago before the Topeka High game.
“I can’t comment on that issue right now,” George said of Taylor’s status with the team. “He was not here tonight.”