Manhattan High assistant boys’ basketball coaches Benji George and Shane Sieben haven’t been in charge long, but they’ve noticed a disturbing trend early in games.
The Indians don’t often come out ready to play defensively.
Against Topeka West on Tuesday night, Manhattan trailed by as many as 14 in the first quarter before putting together a run in the final minute to make it 25-17 heading into the second. The frenetic pace and the miscues on defense set the tone for most of the second half as the Chargers beat Manhattan 69-59.
“It’s been kind of a trend for us that we need to get out of — we haven’t been very good defensively in the first quarters of ballgames,” George said. “It’s something we need to get fixed in practice, we weren’t ready to go defensively.”
Topeka West forced six Manhattan turnovers in the first quarter and took several of them the other way for easy layups.
The Indians fared better in the second quarter, forcing the Chargers into tougher shots. After shooting 10 of 13 from the floor in the first quarter, Topeka West was 3 of 12 in the second quarter as Manhattan used a 7-0 run to chip into the deficit, going to halftime down three, 34-31.
“We changed our look defensively, and that helped,” George said. “It helped to get our feet under us, and we made some shots there, too.”
Manhattan (10-5, 6-3 Centennial) never led in the game, but got as close as 34-33 early in the third quarter on a basket by Darian Taylor before Topeka West got back into a rhythm offensively, outscoring the Indians 20-9 the rest of the quarter and finishing the third shooting 9 of 13 from the floor.
In the fourth quarter, the Indians struggled to make much headway, closing the gap to eight points as the Chargers finished the game well from the free-throw line, going 11 of 15 in the final period.
Payton Stephens led the Indians with a double-double effort, scoring 20 points and grabbing 11 boards. Chris Martin was also in double figures with 10 points.
Topeka West (5-9, 4-5) had three double-digit scorers in Marcus Vaughn (22 points), Joe Galvan (21 points) and Mose Hugghis (13 points).
Part of Manhattan’s struggles offensively came from Topeka West’s constantly shifting defensive strategy. The Chargers spent most of the night in various types of zones to wreak havoc and test Manhattan’s patience.
“They do some stuff they call ‘amoeba’, and they make it be whatever they want it to be,” George said. “But they did some even-front stuff, and some odd-front stuff. We were having a hard time trying to figure out when to run which press-break, because they mix it up so much. It took a while for us to get all that figured out.”
George wasn’t going to make excuses, but Topeka West proved to be a tough matchup on short rest and without an extensive scout.
“We’re not all about making excuses, but it was a tall task to play this team on the second night of a back-to-back, because they take a completely different approach than Washburn Rural did last night,” he said. “They play a lot more zone, and they have a lot more quickness, and those things combined with some legs that weren’t as fresh, just led to some struggles.”
After two games shooting more than 50 percent, Manhattan finished the night 19 of 50 (38 percent) from the floor, but a far-worse 3 of 20 (15 percent) from behind the arc.
Topeka West, on the other hand, finished 23 of 42 overall and 5 of 15 from long range.
“They’re extremely well-coached, and that’s something we knew,” George said. “Our main message to the guys was that they are very talented, and they have everybody back from last year. They’re really bought-in to their system.
“We told the guys that, and we weren’t really sure how they’d respond, but I think they got the message after giving up 25 in the first quarter.”
Manhattan’s week doesn’t get any easier with a trip to Shawnee Heights on Friday to play a T-Bird team that beat the Indians 53-45 in January.