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T-Birds hand MHS boys their first loss of the season

By Grant Guggisberg

In each of the Manhattan High boys’ basketball team’s five wins this season, they’ve had a comfortable lead for most of the fourth quarter en route to double-digit wins.

While head coach Tim Brooks enjoyed the relaxed wins, he wondered how his team would fare in a pressure situation when things weren’t going so well.

In Friday’s 53-45 loss, he found out.

Trailing for most of the game because of the quickness of Shawnee Heights’ four-guard lineup, Manhattan could never find a rhythm on offense and was often on its heels defensively. While the Indians used a 10-0 run in the third quarter to tie the game, the comeback effort fell short in the end.

“They were very good offensively, and there in the fourth quarter, they spread us out really well and made it tough for us to guard them,” Brooks said. “But when it came down to it, I think the game was probably won in the first half for them. We were about as bad as possible offensively as we could be. We didn’t look like ourselves tonight.”

Manhattan (5-1, 2-1 Centennial) trailed 15-11 after one quarter and 28-22 after two, but was especially bad in the first quarter to the tune of eight turnovers. It was the toughest game yet for point guard Alex Stitt, who is not only the team’s primary ball handler, but one of its leading scorers. The senior scored just four points on 1-of-7 shooting.

The Indians got 17 points and six rebounds from Payton Stephens, but an off night from the rest of the team, with no other players in double-figure scoring. Gabe Awbrey finished with nine points, while Darian Taylor had six points and eight boards.

Part of the Indians’ problems stemmed from the quickness of Tony Barksdale Jr. and Jovan Barksdale. Each of the brothers scored 10 points, with Braeson Sester adding 15 and Tez Scroggins chipping in 12.

“They’re fast, but they’re also strong,” Brooks said. “They’ve got three or four of the best guards on any one team in the state. It’s a tough guard and a tough matchup for us.”

Brooks said the gameplan was to use the team’s advantage in the post, but getting the ball inside proved to be difficult.

“We tried to take advantage of some things down low, but I thought in the first half, we tried to do too much off the dribble, and we’re not going to beat those guys off the dribble,” Brooks said. “Once we started cutting and passing and some things like that, we were a little better. I thought we slowed them down a little bit with our full-court pressure, but occasionally they got past us for some easy looks. Tonight, the better team won.”

In the third quarter, Manhattan was able to force some Shawnee Heights (4-3, 3-1) turnovers with some full-court pressure and its 3-2 zone to get back into the game. The first couple possessions against the zone, the T-Birds reacted as if they hadn’t seen it before.

Once the game got into the fourth quarter with the T-Birds leading 37-34, Manhattan was forced to go back to its man-to-man. Shawnee Heights scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to lead 43-35, and the Indians would get no closer than five the rest of the way.

“If we could have got it tied, we could have sat in the zone,” Brooks said. “It did cause some problems and slowed them down. Our length was hard for them to shoot over, but we couldn’t get it tied or get the lead, so it was tough.”

Manhattan shot 34 percent (14 of 41) from the field and made just 2 of 15 from long range. Shawnee Heights was far more efficient, shooting 47 percent (16 of 34), though they too were frigid from beyond the arc, finishing 1 of 9.

The Indians finished with 18 turnovers.

Looking forward, Brooks said he’s hopeful his players will be able to put the loss behind them and continue what has thus far been a successful season.

“We’ll see,” Brooks said. “We talked about what we’re going to do, whether we’re going to pout and mope, or are we going to try and learn from it and move on. When you’re undefeated, you’ve got a target on your back and everybody wants to beat you.

“These guys wanted to beat us bad, but Hayden will too, and Junction will too, so we’ve got to be ready to play and be focused.”

The Indians travel to Hayden (1-4, 1-2) on Tuesday. The Wildcats got their first win of the season against Topeka West Friday night, but have been close in each of their four losses to start the season.

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