Despite the crowd limitations in place, the Manhattan High gym was loud in the third quarter of Tuesday night’s boys’ basketball game between MHS and Junction City. However, it wasn’t the home crowd getting riled up.
Instead, almost all of the noise was coming from behind the Junction City bench, as the Blue Jays’ junior varsity team shouted and stomped in the bleachers. Junction City had just pulled back within a point of the lead, and appeared on the verge of running Manhattan out of its own gym.
That’s when Cameron Carr stepped up.
The sophomore guard, who is the younger brother of Kansas State women’s basketball’s Chrissy Carr, had been a streaky scorer through his first two games at the varsity level for the Indians, mixing a smooth shooting stroke with long periods in which he didn’t factor into the team’s offense. On Tuesday, he finally found some consistency.
Carr became a walking bucket, mixing in deep 3-pointers with breakaway layups at the rim. He exuded confidence, flashing three fingers in the direction of the Junction City crowd after hitting a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter and swatting a mid-range shot from a Blue Jay player late in the game to stomp out any chance of a Junction City comeback.
It was Carr’s 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting that powered Manhattan (1-2) past Junction City 58-48.
“(My confidence) is going up game by game,” Carr said. “But it’s my teammates. My teammates are helping boost my confidence. If I miss a shot, they say, ‘Keep shooting,’ and I’m like, ‘OK, I got you.’ Just keep shooting the ball.”
Carr’s performance was desperately needed for this Manhattan team, which perhaps has relied too much on senior guard Owen Braxmeyer to carry the offense this season.
Braxmeyer struggled to get going Tuesday, scoring 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting while also picking up multiple charging fouls. With fellow guards Cade Perkins and Brett Wilcoxson out with injuries, Manhattan needed strong performances from the rest of its thinned-out guard corps.
Along with Carr, junior guard Tate Brown also contributed a standout performance. Brown knocked down seven of his 13 shots for 16 points.
“It helps Owen and helps the trust factor of having so many guys contribute,” MHS head coach Benji George said. “I think it showed our team that we were a pretty good team tonight, and we were short-handed. We’re continuing to get better.”
While both Carr and Brown kept Manhattan moving offensively, the team’s defense was equally, if not more, important.
The Indians played the entire game in a 2-3 zone. The thought process: MHS would not allow Junction City to beat it on the interior.
However, there was risk involved in the strategy. The Blue Jays like to play fast. In order for the zone to work, MHS had to get back on defense quickly or risk allowing its opposition to fly straight to the rim.
For the most part, Manhattan was able to get back in time to make life hard on the Blue Jays. Junction City made just 22% of its attempts in the first half. The effort led to a 24-16 MHS lead at halftime.
“Going back to the Hayden game, one of the things that disappointed me most is I feel like our zone could be effective and it just wasn’t,” George said. “So we worked on it Saturday morning, we worked on it (Monday) and just keep working at it. I think the players have good buy in. They see how effective it can be.”
Coming out of the halftime locker room, Junction City stepped up on defense. Employing a full-court trap, the Blue Jays forced turnover after turnover to claw their way back into the game.
It took Carr’s late-game heroics — he had 12 second-half points — to pull Manhattan back to a comfortable lead. The Blue Jays never got within five points of Manhattan at any time during the fourth quarter.
Following the win, George and his team let out a sigh of relief. However, the team’s celebration will have to remain short, as the Indians travel to take on a tough Topeka West team Friday.
“Friday night’s going to be the exact same way,” George said. “It’s going to be the same kind of game. For one night, we showed we could handle it. Now, we have a chance to show we can handle it moving on.”
JUNCTION CITY 48
Junction City (48)
Totals: 15-46 FG, 15-26 FT, 48 points
Chris Dixon 4-14 2-2 11, Terrance Tedder 3-6 1-2 7, Austin Smith 0-3 1-2 1, Howard Johnson 4-15 9-10 18, Javon George 1-2 2-8 4, David Rowell 2-3 0-2 4, Deontae Baker 1-1 0-0 3, Seth Clark 0-2 0-0 0, Ismael Fadiga 0-0 0-0 0
Totals: 23-49 FG, 7-13 FT, 58 points
Owen Braxmeyer 3-8 4-8 11, Tate Brown 7-13 0-0 16, Mason Reid 2-2 0-0 4, Cade Wilson 1-3 0-0 2, Cameron Carr 7-11 2-3 18, Cole Coonrod 1-6 0-0 2, Jack Wilson 2-4 0-0 4, Joe Hall 0-2 0-0 0, Jack Campbell 0-0 0-0 0, Trey Holloway 0-0 1-2 1
Three point field goals made: Junction City 3 (Dixon, Johnson, Baker) Manhattan 5 (Brown 2, Carr 2, Braxmeyer)
Turnovers: Junction City 13, Manhattan 19