Every team wants to be playing its best basketball as it heads into the postseason.
At times on Tuesday, the Manhattan High boys did just that in a 59-41 win over Hayden in their final regular-season game.
That included a second quarter in which the Indians (12-8) outscored the Wildcats 27-6 to build a dominant 41-11 lead at halftime. In the first two periods, Manhattan shot 70% (16-of-23) from the field and 6-of-8 from 3-point distance.
But it wasn’t just offensive firepower. At halftime, the Indians had held Hayden (10-9) to 24% (5-of-21) shooting while forcing 13 turnovers, eight of which came directly from steals.
“It started with the defensive end of the floor; I just thought we were everywhere defensively in that first half,” said head coach Benji George. “Every time they tried to get it inside to (Joe) Otting, we executed the defensive game plan. We tipped 25 passes in the first half, which is phenomenal. I know everybody’s going to talk about the points and the scoring, but it was defense and holding them to one shot and rebounding the ball that got us that lead like that.”
Admittedly, Manhattan’s second-half performance didn’t quite match the excellence of the first, as the Wildcats outpaced the Indians 30-18 through the final 16 minutes. Nevertheless, Manhattan finished the game shooting 58% (21-of-36) overall and 7-of-12 from long range, while Hayden went just 34% (17-of-50) and 3-of-17 from behind the arc.
The Indians won the rebounding war 29-23, but they totaled 18 turnovers while forcing 17 from the Wildcats.
Eight different players scored for Manhattan, with three reaching double figures. Jack Wilson put up 14 points, while Jason Kim scored 12 and Landon Knopp added 11.
“Our players complement each other so well,” George said. “The skill sets complement each other so well. You’ve got a natural slasher in guys like Collins (Elumogo) and Ian (McNabb). You’ve got the versatile guy with Jack who can go inside and outside. And then our guards, we’re really into sharing the ball. I don’t think anybody really forces shots. When you get things rolling, it looks pretty good.”
Hayden jumped out to a 3-0 lead after a bit more than a minute of action. The Indians needed nearly 3 ½ minutes to notch their first field goal when Wilson scored at the 4:37 mark of the first quarter. But that bucket kicked off a 19-2 run that lasted until there was 5:22 remaining in the second period.
The onslaught was only just beginning. Manhattan boat-raced the Wildcats 22-4 in the last 4 ½ minutes of the first half and topped it off with a Wilson 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Indians limited Hayden’s star post Joe Otting to just six points, including two in the first half. He scored 14 against Manhattan in the Wildcats’ 51-48 win on Feb. 3. George said his team figured out “when to swarm him” and managed to shut him down.
“He’s such a good passer that you can’t do it too early because he’s going to find the open man,” he said. “We really worked on reading visual cues of when to go swarm him and what direction to come from. The double-team is easy. It’s connecting with the other three players, and I thought we did a really good job of that.”
With their regular-season slate concluded, the Indians now sit at No. 6 in the 6A West regional bracket. While that could be subject to change because some teams still have games scheduled for Friday, they should be in line to host their first sub-state game next week. As of now, their opponent would be No. 11 Wichita Southeast.
George said that looking back, there were some games his team lost he’d like to have back, but ultimately, he’s proud of his team for winning four of its last five.
“I feel like we’re playing our best basketball,” he said. “We still didn’t put a whole 32 minutes together tonight and that needs to come, but I like where we’re getting to with this playoff stretch we’ve got coming up.”
Although Manhattan will likely play at least one more game on its own floor, Tuesday was the last guaranteed home game for its four seniors: Dre Delort, Keenan Schartz, Cole Coonrod, Collins Elumogo and Jack Wilson.
George had high praise for his senior group, saying that they get along well on and off the court, and that they believe in one another.
“They’re just so selfless, every one of them,” he said. “There’s not a selfish moment with any of them. I’m the luckiest guy in the state to get to coach such a quality group of young men that can do what they do on the basketball floor.”
MANHATTAN 59, HAYDEN 41
Hayden (10-9) — 5; 6; 18; 12; — 41
Manhattan (12-8) — 14; 27; 11; 7; — 59
Hayden — McGibboney 8 (3-6), Muller 7 (3-7), Otting 6 (3-7), Charvat 6 (3-3), Deister 6 (2-3), Cameron 2 (1-3), Padilla 2 (1-6), Ridley 2 (1-5), Mitchel 2 (0-1). Total: 41 (17-50).
Manhattan — Wilson 14 (4-8), Kim 12 (4-7), Knopp 11 (4-7), McNabb 7 (3-4), Coonrod 6 (3-5), Braxmeyer 4 (2-2), Elumogo 3 (1-1), Delort 1 (0-2). Total: 59 (21-36).