Manual was threatening. After Tim Comstock (12, #24) hit a pair of free throws to cut the Ballard lead to seven, the Crimsons were in a position to pull off their second straight fourth quarter comeback. However, Ballard guard Jamil Wilson (11, #22) stayed calm and collected. On Ballard’s next possession, Wilson sliced and diced the Crimson pressure and hit a smooth pull-up 15-foot jumper to give Ballard a nine point advantage with 5:45 left in the fourth quarter. Wilson’s jumper sparked an 8-0 Bruin run—Wilson had five of the points plus an assist—which put the game out of reach for Ballard, who staved off the pesky Crimsons 77-62.
“Our effort was good, I thought we worked hard and that the kids played hard,” Manual Head Coach Jimmy Just said. “It’s just that we have a lot of things to learn”
Wilson was the MVP all night for the Bruins, as he headed the Ballard full-court pressure, was able to consistently hit his mid-range jump shot as well as get into the lane, distributed the ball with his teammates and displayed perfection from the charity stripe. Manual just had no answer for the smallest man on the court.
“He’s a nice player, I knew that from last year,” Just said. “He’s a tough guard; unless we get the ball out of his hands he’s going to cause some problems.”
Manual was able to stifle Ballard for most of the night on the defensive end, which allowed the Crimsons to hang around for the overwhelming majority of the ballgame.
“We give great effort every game,” center Noah Hawkins (10, #42) said. “Sometimes it’s more about how smart we play, but our effort’s good.”
Early in the game, Manual was plagued by foul trouble. Three starters, Steven Gordon (12, #21), Marquis McClendon (12, #3) and Jo Aunn Rivers (12, #10), all picked up two fouls within the first three minutes of action. This caused an already inexperienced Manual team to play with even less experience. For long stretches of the first half, the Crimsons were forced to play as many as three or four sophomores at a time, something that is rare in high school varsity basketball.
In addition, McClendon, Rivers and Gordon are normally Manual’s three primary ball handlers. Without them in the lineup, the Bruins were able to crank up their pressure on the young Crimsons.
“Some of the guys that got into foul trouble had some experience from last year, and we were relying on inexperience, so when they weren’t out on the floor it made it a little tougher,” Just said. “But, you know, it makes those other guys get an opportunity to learn; gives them a chance to grow and get better. The young guys that got some experience today will grow and get better from it.”
In all, there were 17 fouls in the first quarter alone of the foul fest, and the whistles continued to blow against both teams throughout the game. Even with all the foul trouble, Manual was only down 30-23 at halftime, and after Eric Niemann (12, #33) hit a layup at the 5:16 mark of the third quarter, the Crimsons found themselves down just four points at 35-31, putting them in a position to possibly seize control of the game. But the Bruins, led by Wilson, fought back with an 11-4 run, and Manual never got any closer than seven the rest of the way.
“Some of us kind of hung our heads a little bit,” Hawkins said. “Negative plays happened, our energy level dropped at times, and people miscommunicated and that left people open under the basket.”
“We have a lot of inexperience right now, and we just got to teach them how to play against this level of play,” Just said. “This is a little bit of a different level of play as far as intensity. I thought that we played well for the most part but I thought that later in the game we got a little tired, we allowed some things to happen, and they took advantage. They did a good job with their spacing, and they got a nice team.”
Even though Manual lost, the Crimsons gained valuable experience against the Bruins.
“Today we weren’t completely concerned about shutting down Ballard, we just wanted to get an opportunity to see where we’re at, and make sure that our guys are competing,” Just said. “We’ve learned some things from today, and we’ll be more prepared next time, and do some different things.”
Ballard, ranked ninth in the state, is just one of many tough teams in the early season gauntlet the Crimsons face. Manual knocked off seventh-ranked Waggener on Tuesday night, and will play number 13 Trinity on December 15.
“Playing the best that there are in the state really shows what we need to work on and what we’re good at right now, and it’ll just help us get better in the long run,” Hawkins said.
Manual (1-1) will play in the PRP Classic on Saturday, December 5. Tipoff is at 5 p.m.
“I think that we’re right where we should be right now,” Just said. “With the lack of varsity experience we have right now, we look good at times and we look bad at times, so it’s going to take some time, but I think we’ll find where we’re at as long we keep playing hard we’ll get better from it.”