After a lackluster first half, forward Eric Niemann (12, #33) stole a Mustang pass, drove hard to the bucket, got fouled and hit a layup. The basket not only got Manual within three points of Moore, but it also set the tone for the rest of the ballgame.
The play would spark an 11-0 Crimson run, and by the time Will Britt (11, #23) hit a buzzer beater to end the third quarter, Manual had turned a 28-23 halftime deficit into a 39-32 lead.
“We really got a lot of energy off of that first burst, the 11-0 run, and we just carried it from there,” center Noah Hawkins (10, #42) said. Hawkins had five points during the run for Manual.
The momentum carried into the fourth quarter, and after Jordan McClendon (10, #30) capped an 8-0 run with a strip and a one-handed slam, Manual was in control, holding a 12 point lead at 47-35 with just 7:26 remaining. The Crimsons would coast the rest of the way to win 59-53.
“Our kids were making better decisions, and defensively we made some plays,” Manual Head Coach Mr. Jimmy Just (Mathematics) said. “Our defense led to some points in those runs and that’s important for us. Our defense needs to help us create some offense, and we did that tonight.”
The Crimsons were able to force turnovers to create easy baskets in transition in the second half; however, when Manual was forced to run their half-court offense, the Crimsons again struggled.
“We have to be patient,” Just said. “We’re just trying to score too quick. A lot of times we aren’t getting better shots because we’re too impatient. Once we learn to move the ball around a little bit and try to see if we can make five to ten passes, we’ll get some better looks.”
Manual found themselves rushing shots too often as they strayed away from their half-court sets.
“We have to work on executing,” guard Steven Gordon (12, #21) said. “When we come down, we have to get in our spots and run plays all the way through.”
In the first half, Manual came out flat. Moore had more energy early, and they were able to convert on open looks by running multiple pick-and-rolls.
“I think we took them for granted, because we came out last year and kind of just walked all over them,” Gordon said. “But after we saw that they weren’t to be taken easily, we came out and played hard, and that’s when we started playing better.”
Manual could not score consistently out of their half-court sets and were not active on the defensive end, which led to the Mustangs enjoying a five-point lead at the break.
“When we went into the locker room at halftime, it was like, ‘We’ve got to want it. We’ve got to earn the W because they aren’t going to give it to us.’ I think that lit a fire under us and we went out and played hard [in the second half],” Gordon said.
At halftime, Just made a key adjustment by switching his Crimsons out of their man-to-man defense and into a 2-3 zone. In the zone, Manual was able to shut down Moore’s pick-and-roll game, and were able to be ultra-active and force turnovers.
“Coach [Just] noticed that they didn’t move a lot in their offense,” Gordon said. “So when we played 2-3, we kind of just matched up to them, and that helped a lot because it let us get into the passing lanes to get steals and easy buckets in transition.”
The switch to the zone, as well as a more focused and energized Crimsons, led to Manual blitzing Moore 16-4 in the third quarter.
“We probably did better in the second half,” Just said. “In the first half we allowed some things to happen that shouldn’t have happened; they got too many easy looks. We limited their easy looks in the second half, we defended their pick-and-rolls, and we had to play some 2-3 zone because we got a little bit careless with our man defense.”
The win was desperately needed for the Crimsons, as the victory snapped a three game losing streak. In total, Manual (10-9) had lost six of its last eight games before knocking off Moore.
“It always helps to win games, it makes you feel a little bit better,” Just said. “Sometimes when you don’t win games it’s hard to see the good. We have some good, but we still have some things that we’ve got to work on, but today was kind of a feel good game. We got a chance to get a win and get a little bit better, and try to continue working moving forward.”
Manual will try to continue its winning ways when the Crimsons host Christian Academy of Indiana on Thursday, Jan. 26. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.