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Jo+Aunn+Rivers+%2812%2C+%2310%29+calls+a+play+against+Waggener.+%0APhoto+by+Kate+Hatter.
Jo Aunn Rivers (12, #10) calls a play against Waggener. Photo by Kate Hatter.

Drought kills Crimsons against Central in District finals

Jo Aunn Rivers (12, #10) calls a play against Waggener.  Photo by Kate Hatter.
Jo Aunn Rivers (12, #10) sets up the offense against Waggener.
Photo by Kate Hatter.

As Tim Comstock’s (12, #24) layup fell off the rim, Manual guard Steven Gordon (12, #21) was able to out leap multiple Central defenders to snatch the offensive rebound. After landing, Gordon swiftly bounced right back up to hit a layup and draw a foul to give Manual it’s largest lead of the ballgame up to that point, as the Crimsons held a 28-20 lead with 2:04 left in the first half. However, Gordon’s putback would be Manual’s last made field goal for a long, long time.

After Manual took a 30-23 lead into the locker room, Central came out firing on all cylinders to start the second half. The Yellowjackets pressured the Crimsons into bad shot selection and turnovers, which allowed Central to get into transition and get either layups or free throws. Central started the second half on a 15-1 run, and the Yellowjackets outscored Manual 22-6 in the third quarter.

“They sped us up a little bit,” Manual Head Coach Jimmy Just said. “Instead of coming down and being more patient to get a better shot, we were trying to call contact and were trying to be aggressive. We just ended up taking a lot more tougher shots. That’s something that we’ve got to do a better job of, and I need to do something to try to get them under control, but we kept trying to tell them to be aggressive. We were not handling it the way we needed to.”

It didn’t get any better for the Crimsons in the fourth quarter. Manual did not make a shot from the field until Brock Cassin (11, #40) hit a layup with 4:45 left in the game. Cassin’s layup was Manual’s first field goal since Gordon’s putback late in the first half, a drought that took 13 minutes and 19 seconds. During the drought, Central outscored Manual 34-10.

Even after Cassin’s bucket, it didn’t get any better for Manual, as the Yellowjackets coasted the rest of the way to the District 25 crown, throttling Manual 66-47. The Crimsons only made one field goal (Cassin’s layup) in the final 18:04 of the ballgame. In the end, it was Central’s constant full court pressure that forced Manual out of their comfort zone offensively, which led to some bad shot selection from the Crimsons.

“We didn’t take the shots that we needed to take,” Gordon said. “We took the shots the defense wanted us to take.”

“They just picked us up full court, and made us have to attack, and at the end of the press, we just didn’t attack very well,” Just said. “Our decision making was poor because we’d try to get to the rim, but we couldn’t get to the rim, so we settled for tougher shots. We took tougher shots instead of the open looks that we wanted.”

Manual’s atrocious shot selection let Central get into transition consistently in the second half, in which the Yellowjackets were able to turn those transition opportunities into layups or free throws.

“That was mostly in the second half,” Just said. “In the first half I thought that we did a really nice job of getting back. In fact, if they hadn’t gotten to the [free throw] line, they wouldn’t have scored hardly anything in the first half. It was just in the second half they sped us up, we took quicker shots and they were able to get into transition. Us taking quick shots led to them getting out on the break better.”

All in all, Central just outworked the Crimsons in the second half.

“They’re tough,” Gordon said. “It’s not that they’re better than us, it’s just that they play all four quarters. We play hard for like a half, but we don’t play hard for a whole game. We need to work on playing hard the whole game.”

Manual will now set their sights on the Region 7 tournament, which will begin on Tuesday night. Since Manual is the District 25 runner-up, they will have to play a road game in the quarterfinals of the eight team single-elimination tournament against a district champion; however, while most years that would be a big deal, the seventh region is so wide open this season that playing on the road is not as large of a disadvantage as usual.

“I don’t think there’s a team that is overly favored,” Just said. ”It’s a matter of who can play well for three games. Whoever can put three good games together probably has the best chance to win, because I think that everybody is that close.”

In addition to that, the two slight favorites to win the region seven crown, Male and Ballard, both lost in their district finals, meaning the Crimsons will get to avoid the Bruins and the Bulldogs in the opening round. Instead, Manual will have to travel to either Eastern, who Manual has lost to twice this season (including on a buzzer beater in the LIT back on Jan. 13),  Trinity, who beat Manual in a back and forth battle on December 15, or St. X, who Manual beat 57-56 on Feb. 8.

“We’re ready for whoever. Bring’em on,” Gordon said. “I think we can beat anybody that we’re matched up against.”

The Crimsons will learn their opponent on Saturday morning, as the Region 7 tournament draw is scheduled for 10 a.m.

“I don’t think there should be any fear factor playing any of these guys,” Just said. “I think that it’s just a matter of if we’re showing up and playing our game. If we play our game, I think we got a great chance. We’ve just got to make sure that we don’t let other teams dictate what we do, we’ve got to dictate what we do.”

Whoever Manual plays, they will play them this coming Tuesday, March 1. Stay tuned to RedEye and @TheCSPNSports on twitter for updates on who Manual will play.

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