Benji George didn’t hesitate.
The best part about his Manhattan High club’s 62-34 win over Maize at the Tournament of Champions in Dodge City on Thursday afternoon was the way the Indians played defense.
“Our defense,” George said, “really set the tone for our offense.”
That much was clear in the numbers alone.
Manhattan forced Maize into 22 turnovers and a 33% shooting clip. No Eagle scored in double figures. Neither Peyton Weixelman nor Mitch Munsen scored much — they posted two and four points, respectively — but they combined for 10 steals.
It happened quickly, too. The Indians raced to a 18-7 lead after the first quarter, and they opened the third frame on a 17-2 run.
By then, their defense had indeed set the tone.
They cruised from there.
“They were all ball screens, and I think we really communicated what we were doing on ball screens well,” George said. “I think our guys went into the game with a good understanding of the scouting report. I thought we just did a good job of taking them out of their stuff and contesting what they did get. We were really engaged defensively and active with our hands.”
Manhattan senior Raeshon Riddick led his group with 19 points — 16 in the first half — and junior Owen Braxmeyer added 15 of his own. They pulled down five rebounds apiece.
Braxmeyer scored several of his points on fast breaks, especially in the second half, when the Indians’ defense created turnovers and chances in transition. Again: defense.
“We were just doing a good job of getting him the ball,” George said of Riddick. “They would crowd Chandler (Marks), and Chandler would share it with him. I thought, as a team, we did a good job of getting him touches.
“Owen’s was mostly transition. He just did a good job of running the floor and finishing in transition. I thought Owen did a really nice job of making the correct decisions in transition and really attacking.”
One Indian who personified the team’s sterling defensive outing: Munsen. He swiped six steals, sure, but he also snared seven rebounds.
At the same time, though, he also had a hard time converting around the basket. He made just 2 of 12 shots. The problem plagued other parts of the roster, too. Weixelman shot just 1-for-6.
“He really played a good game,” George said of Munsen. “Two-for-12 from the field, and a lot of them were at the rim. He just struggled finishing. But everything else was great. I thought he guarded really well. He had seven rebounds, four assists, so he really played a complete game.”
George also was able to identify the problems there, though.
At least some of them.
“Really, as a team, we struggled finishing,” George said. “I think it’s two things. I think it’s not having played but two games in a month, and then I think some of it (is playing at) 3:45, in a huge arena. It’s kind of getting used to the environment a little bit.”
With the win, Manhattan advances to the tournament semifinals, facing Bishop Miege at approximately 7:30 p.m. Friday.
George admitted he doesn’t know much about the Stags, except this: 6-foot-7 sophomore Mark Mitchell, a five-star recruit according to 247Sports and a four-star according to Rivals, will be a threat.
He scored 25 points in Miege’s opening win over Wichita Heights, too.
George, though, said he’s more concerned about making sure his own team is prepared.
“We’re going to have to be ready for a test,” George said. “That’s why we’re here, and we’re excited for it.”
Manhattan 62, Maize 34
Totals: 15-45 FG, 2-6 FT, 34 points
Keegan Harrod 2-5 0-0 4, Prevon Chrison 1-3 0-0 2, Kyle Grill 1-7 0-0 2, K.J. Hampton 2-4 0-1 5, Jacob Hanna 2-6 2-4 6, Winston Bing 3-10 0-1 6, Tanner Carter 1-2 0-0 3, Mason Belcher 1-2 0-0 2, Jaden Gustafson 2-6 0-0 4
Totals: 24-55 FG, 13-20 FT, 62 points
Peyton Weixelman 1-6 0-1 2, Owen Braxmeyer 6-8 3-4 15, Raeshon Riddick 8-11 2-3 19, Mitch Munsen 2-12 0-0 4, Antonio Barron 1-3 1-1 3, Tyce Hoover 1-2 0-0 2, Tyler Higgins 1-3 4-7 6, Colton Sullivan 1-3 2-2 4, Chandler Marks 3-7 1-2 7
Three-point field goals: Maize 2 (Hampton, Carter), Manhattan 1 (Riddick). Fouled out: None. Turnovers: Maize 22, Manhattan 11.