The Manhattan Indians survived a ferocious Wichita East rally Saturday, beating the Blue Aces 50-48 and earning a fifth-place finish the 2018 Tournament of Champions.
Manhattan went into the fourth quarter up 37-31. Senior John Ostermann opened the quarter with a 3-pointer to push the lead to 10. At multiple points in the final frame the Indians led by as many as 12.
In the final few minutes though, the Blue Aces carved their way back into it.
A Manhattan free throw made it 49-40 late in the quarter, but the Blue Aces then drained a 3-ball, hit one from inside the arc, then hit another outside of it, cutting the lead to 49-48. After a Manhattan free throw made it 50-48, the Blue Aces had the opportunity to get the last shot with under 10 seconds remaining.
In the final seconds, the Blue Aces missed a 3-ball from the corner, and a rebound careened off a Blue Aces’ player as time expired, ending the game.
“It’s two days in a row we haven’t done a good job of holding on to a lead, and it’s hard for me,” Manhattan head coach Benji George said. “I need to do a better job of coaching ‘em in those situations and I need to go to work on how to be a better late-game coach and what rotations we need.”
Despite allowing the almost-comeback, Manhattan kept it from being a completed-comeback.
“We were tough enough to get a stop when we needed it,” George said. “(The) third day of a tournament’s just all about grindin, and I thought we did a good job of grinding today.”
The Indians finished the tournament 2-1. The team’s finish, only tarnished by a day-one loss to Hays, was one George said should give the team confidence going forward.
“I told the guys that I mean we’re going to play really good teams like Wichita East in our league and in playoffs, you know the Topeka High’s of the world,” George said. “So it should give us some confidence to know that we can play our style of basketball and beat teams that are more athletic than we are.”
Wichita East junior Jaylen Randle had a game-high 13 points, and senior Clayton Bradley had a game-high nine rebounds in the loss.
Manhattan senior Nate Awbrey tied with Dodge City’s Noah Sowers for the most assists in the final day of the tournament, with a game-high eight.
Without having seen the stats, George said senior Dawson Stewart was someone who had a bigger impact than the numbers might indicate.
“Well I don’t know what the stats are, but Dawson Stewart off the bench was phenomenal today,” George said. “I don’t know how many points or rebounds or any of that he had but he was just, he (had a) big, big game for us.”
Stewart was an impressive 5 of 5 for a team-high 10 points.
Another was senior Carson Marsh, who finished with four points and an assist.
“Carson Marsh I think, I’ll have to verify this, broke the school-record on charges taken in a game,” George said. “I told the guys, God dang it, I told the guys if we take five charges I’ll have to shave lightning-bolts in my hair, and we took five. So now I’ll have lightning-bolts in my hair.”