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Squires stay unbeaten in TRC play

FLOATER: Manchester’s Kam Lester puts up a shot during the Squires’ game at North Miami on Friday.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

DENVER – With events back in Wabash County pointing to Wabash remaining at the top of the TRC boys’ basketball race, Manchester needed to maintain its own unblemished mark in conference play Friday night.

Having played in a slate of close-run games all season, a trip to North Miami was just what the team needed to stretch its legs as the Squires put up a season-high offensive total against the Warriors in an 80-56 win.

Manchester head coach Mark Underwood saw good things from North Miami and said the Squires played very well to win by the scoreline it did.

“I would like to compliment coach (Cliff) Hawkins for how improved North Miami is since last year,” Underwood said. “Coach Hawkins has his boys going in the right direction and I tip my hat to him.

“We played really well tonight and had we not, this game could have gone either way. We played together on offense and it was a very unselfish effort, which we love to see.”

Manchester started the game on the front foot by scoring three times off of steals in the opening minutes of the contest.

Kam Lester grabbed the first, setting up Thane Creager for a three to open the scoring, followed by Max Carter swiping the ball for Lester to lay in. Lester added another early steal that Weston Hamby used to knock down a free throw, having hit two free throws earlier, to give the Squires an 8-0 lead.

Braxton Beall got the hosts on the board with a three and a three-point play, narrowing the gap to 10-6. Tristan Working hit a jumper to get the lead down to 10-8 but that would be the closest North Miami would get for the rest of the contest.

Back-to-back threes from Caleb Stout saw the Squires race out to a 16-8 lead and would take the eight-point gap into the second period leading 18-10. Forcing turnovers and limiting the hosts to one-shot possessions were the key securing an early lead according to Underwood.

“When we watched film, we saw that North Miami was a very good offensive rebounding team,” Underwood noted. “We knew if we could limit them to a shot and clear the boards, we had the chance to push the ball and get to the other end.”

Lester opened the frame with another steal, dishing off to Hamby for a layup, followed by a putback from Kreeden Krull that gave Manchester a 22-10 lead. The advantage grew to 28-12 following a Carter steal and Creager basket before Nate Musselman knocked down a three, only for Hamby to answer in kind. A pair of Malachi Sanderson threes briefly saw the Warriors trim the gap to 34-21 as the final two minutes of the half approached.

Creager answered with a three, Carter hit two free throws and though Working converted a three-point play, Stout made the best of a near turnover to hit a three that closed the half with the visitors leading 42-24.

Underwood said the Squires played with a quick tempo throughout the first half but always played under control and picked apart the hosts’ defense.

“We like to try to spread the ball and penetrate when we can,” Underwood said. “We took it to the hole when they didn’t stop us and when they did, we had guys who got themselves set up for kick outs and knocked down some shots.

“We were pleased with the ball movement as well as the way we pushed the ball out in transition. There are times when a team can get in a hurry in transition but the boys did a nice job of not forcing things but taking good shots.”

With an 18-point gap to work with, Manchester was content to trade off baskets with North Miami throughout the remainder of the game.

The Squires would extend the lead to as large as 26 at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter on separate baskets from Creager, Carter and Lester while the Warriors would not be able to get closer than 16 the rest of the night.

Hamby finished with 23 points and three assists for Manchester while Stout added 15 points and Creager chipped in 12 points and five rebounds as nine Squires recorded a basket on the night with the team shooting 29-of-52 from the field.

The win moves Manchester to 5-5 on the season and 2-0 in TRC play heading into a major conference showdown next Friday at home with Wabash.

Underwood said it would require an exceptional performance to peg back the Apaches but said the Squires had that game in them and it would be a case of bringing it out at home next week.

“We’re going to keep plugging away and get better every day at practice,” Underwood said. “We know we’ll have to be at our best.

“As a coach, it’s my job to make sure the guys don’t go into this game playing tight. We want them to be loose, to be confident and not go out playing scared.

“We want to take the pressure off them because if the boys play like they’re capable of, they have a real shot of coming out on top of that game against an extremely good Wabash team.”