Comeback Crimsons make strong early statement against Waggener

Photo+by+Kate+Hatter.

Photo by Kate Hatter.

Jack Grossman

Down two with 9.4 seconds left, Manual needed a miracle. After Waggener’s Kevion Hudson (9, #5) hit his second free throw, the Crimsons had one last chance. Manual got the ball to guard Steven Gordon (12, #21), who shot an off-balanced three from the wing. Gordon’s shot sailed through the air, into the basket and straight into overtime.

“I thought that Stevie did a nice job,” Manual Head Coach Jimmy Just said. “That big three that he hit was pretty special, but I thought that all these guys stepped up and made some nice plays, and did some great things. I expect that out of Stevie. He has more varsity experience than any of these other guys, so we do expect a lot out of him.”

Gordon’s three completed a hard-fought Crimson comeback. After being down by as many as 12 early in the game, Manual was able to slowly fight and claw their way back into the ball game.

“It was a tied game at the beginning and it was a tied game at the end of regulation, and that’s the only time that we were in that position,” Just said. “We were behind the rest of the time. For the most part, the kids responded really well.”

In overtime, Eric Niemann (12, #33) hit a pair of layups to give Manual its first lead of the ballgame at 63-60. After Hudson retook the lead for Waggener, Tim Comstock (12, #24) quickly gave Manual the lead for good with a layup with 25.7 seconds left. Niemann forced a key turnover in the final seconds to seal the 66-64 upset for the Crimsons against seventh-ranked Waggener.

“I’m extremely proud of them,” Just said. “I think that we never quit, we made a lot of mistakes, but after each mistake we fought back. We talked about it at halftime, when you make a bad play just come back and make a good play, so I thought that we did that.”

Despite entering the ballgame extremely undersized—Waggener started three players over six-feet six-inches, while Manual didn’t play anyone taller than six-feet five-inches—the Crimsons were able to have the rebounding edge.

“For big guys, you have to get around them, take good positioning, and box out, and that’s what we did most of the game” Marquis McClendon (12, #3) said.

Manual was the more aggressive team, and their scrappy play is the reason they were able to win.

“The fact that these guys played extremely hard, and we were very scrappy,” Just said. “We were able to offset their size with quickness and athleticism.”

The win was a huge early season statement for the Crimsons (1-0), who were picked to finish eighth in the seventh region. Waggener, on the other hand, was the media favorite to win the Region 7 crown, and was ranked seventh in the state rankings.

“We played with a lot of heart, and as a team,” Jordan McClendon (10, #30) said. “So when you play as a team you can beat anybody you want to.”

“I just hope that right now that this lets people know that we got a chance to be a competitive team,” Just said. “I don’t want these guys to be underdogs all year. I want these guys to have a target on their back, to play like we expect ourselves to be good. I want to see how we play from that position. I think that this group right now will play hard every game. I expect that from them. Only time will tell.”

Against Waggener, center Noah Hawkins (10, #42) was able to make his presence felt. Hawkins was effective in the post, knocking down layups and jump hooks, as well as being a force on the boards. Hawkins had just been cleared to practice on Monday after recovering from a recent bout of appendicitis.

“With the limited amount of practice he had I think Noah played a fantastic game, and I think that he’ll keep getting better,” Just said. “Noah’s a big part of what we do and he has a chance to add a lot to our team.”

Even with the great showing against the Wildcats, Just says that his team still has a lot to work on.

“We have to learn from this game and we got to work and get better,” Just said. “I don’t think that we played real well this game, we played hard and we made a lot of things happen when we had to make things happen, but I don’t think that we played overly well. So we just got to learn from it and get trying to get better every time we step on the floor during practice and during games.”

The Crimsons will face another stiff test on Friday, as Manual will take on the ninth-ranked Ballard Bruins. Ballard, the defending Region 7 champs, knocked off Manual in the Regional Final in the 2014-15 season. The Bruins and the Crimsons will tip-off at approximately 7:30 p.m. on Friday.