LAWRENCE — After the Manhattan High boys’ strong performance in its win over Topeka High the night before, the Indians knew they had their work cut out for them less than 24 hours — and an hour and a half east — on the road at Lawrence High, the No. 8 squad in Class 6A.
The Indians held tough, and had their chances late in the game despite trailing by double-digits at times in the second half. But a 12-4 run to close the last two and a half minutes of the game cost them, as Manhattan fell 65-55.
“The effort was phenomenal, especially on a quick turnaround,” Manhattan head coach Benji George said. “A lot of guys logged a lot of minutes last night, and just the way we battled all game long, especially after the first quarter, I thought our pride really took over and I thought we went toe-to-toe with them. We couldn’t get that one play that we needed to get us over the hump. But I like what I saw out of our guys. I thought they competed really hard.”
Manhattan got off to a rough start, trailing 11-4 midway through the first quarter, and by as many as nine by the end of the quarter thanks to a couple early turnovers the Lions converted on.
MHS started to settle in once the second quarter started. The Indians fought their way to a five-point deficit, 30-25, heading into halftime after holding Lawrence to just nine points in the second period.
Lawrence increased that lead to six by the end of the third quarter and went on to extend it to 10 after a two-handed, run-out dunk from senior Baylor Bowen.
He was one of nine Lions to score in the game, led by sophomore guard Zaxton King, who had 19.
“(Lawrence) is a deep, athletic and big team,” George said. “There’s a reason why they’re a top-10 team, and I told our guys that we went on the road versus a top 10 6A opponent and I feel like we went toe-to-toe with them. We just fell a little bit short. But I think we’ll learn from it and be better in the end because of it.”
Manhattan responded right back, whittling the Lawrence lead down to single digits, and then started the process of chipping away, led by junior forward Jack Wilson, who had a career-best 18 points, including 10 in the second half.
“He had a good night,” George said. “That’s what we expect of our Jack. He was a little banged up this week, so we were cautious with him (Friday) night, kind of knowing what was coming today. He responded. I think we’ll see that out of him a lot of nights. We’ve seen his potential, and he’ll just keep getting better and better.”
Junior Cole Coonrod had 13 points, including a big 3 late in the game. Senior Cade Perkins turned in 11 points.
Manhattan got things within two with 2:43 to play, but just a minute later, Lawrence had pushed the advantage back to eight.
The Indians scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, marking the second time in as many games this season that Manhattan’s offense thrived in the final period.
“I think some of that is just the resiliency of our group,” George said. “They’re not going to back down, and I think they continue to believe in each other. I thought one positive was that we shared the ball a lot better tonight than we did last night. We’re still nowhere close to where I want us to be, but I saw improvement. I think we’re walking out of here as a better basketball team, and that’s what it’s about right now in early December.”
Lawrence hit its free throws down the stretch and ballooned the lead back to 10 before the final buzzer.
The Indians will have a week to rest and refocus before they hit the road once again to face a Hayden team that opens its season Tuesday versus Highland Park.
“That’s what’s exciting,” George said. “We have Hayden on Friday and we’ll have a chance to go 2-0 in the Centennial League with four practices under our belt. Already in the locker room, our guys are talking about that and are excited. They’re ready to get back to work on Monday.”