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Squires fend off Norse, remain atop TRC

DRIVE: Manchester’s Weston Hamby drives around a defender in the open court during the second half of Wednesday’s game against Northfield.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

NORTH MANCHESTER — The Manchester boys’ basketball team was handed a lifeline in the Three Rivers Conference (TRC) race on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they took the next step in seizing that opportunity.

A loss by Wabash at Tippecanoe Valley moved the Squires into a tie for first place in the conference with both teams having lost just one TRC game. At home against Northfield, Manchester ensured they would remain a one-loss conference team for at least one more night, holding off the Norse for a 58-44 victory.

“Man, this TRC is crazy this year,” Manchester head coach Mark Underwood said. “It is unbelievable. There’s been so many close, two-point games, overtime games. This could have been that way. I really liked the way my guys finished tonight. I think that that’s been a big improvement for us. Early in the year, we were playing some good teams tough but we’d get to the end and couldn’t finish.

“But tonight, they make a great run … but our guys stepped it up and got the job done at the end. I liked the confidence they’re playing with. I like the togetherness they’re playing with. If they keep giving that type of effort, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Norse cut a 12-point second-half lead down to one, Manchester responded with a 15-0 run that spanned half the final quarter and sealed the Squires’ 10th win of the season. Weston Hamby, who poured in a game-high 21 points, had a big hand in the run, scoring the first five points in the spurt.

That strong finish from the sophomore, which included the first seven points total in the fourth for Manchester, came after he got the hosts started off with the opening 10 points of the game in the first quarter.

“He was huge for us, obviously,” Underwood said of Hamby. “He’s a special player. He can’t it by himself, but he really makes everybody on the floor better when he’s out there. He always is looking to score but at the same time, if you’re out there with him, you better have your hands up ready to catch it because if you ever found yourself open, he’ll get you the ball. Great player for us. Really did get us going tonight.”

Behind Hamby, Manchester jumped out to a 10-4 lead and led throughout the second period. A pair of freebies from Hamby to close the first half matched Manchester’s biggest lead of the night as the hosts lead 29-21 heading into the locker rooms.

The margin only continued to grow as Brayden Casper put together his own run, scoring 15 of his 18 points in the second and third periods as Manchester’s lead reached its largest at 38-26.

Behind a 10-3 run to close the quarter, though, Northfield began chipping away at the lead. Clayton Tomlinson and Jared Peas knocked down threes before a fastbreak layup from Logan Peas pulled the guests within four at 38-34.

Tomlinson and Peas again combined in the fourth quarter to score six of the first eight points of the frame as the margin closed to a single point at 43-42.

Manchester, though, made sure there was no further shakeup in the TRC standings with a dominant 15-0 run to open up a 58-42 lead and send the Squires to a win.

“I thought we didn’t play very hard for probably two-and-a-half, three quarters,” Northfield head coach Rick Brewer said. “I mean we just flat out didn’t play very hard. We were down by 11 and we come back and cut it to one. We have to learn some things. Because we cut it to one and we stole the ball and we got anxious and instead of trying to bring it down and let’s run some sets like we’d been doing, we threw it away. And then they came down … we get another steal, we bring it down and get fouled and miss two free throws. Then the next time down, they get about five or six passes and hit a three and that was the game.

“We’re just right there. We’re just not quite good enough. We just have to keep working.”

After transforming into a stingier defense in recent games, the Norse defense was carved up on the night with the hosts shooting 43 percent from the field overall and 53 percent from the line with nine three-pointers.

“We just didn’t play hard,” Brewer said. “Now, when we decided we were going to defend, we gave them all kinds of fits. That’s when we started to make a comeback. I thought we shot really poorly all night long. Typically, we’re a better shooting team than that. We have to figure that out. When you’re on the road, you have to shoot the ball well.”

Tomlinson had a stat-stuffing line on the night, finishing with 10 points, seven assists, six steals and five rebounds. Jared Peas led the team with 13 points while Logan Peas had seven points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Hamby and Casper, though, combined for 39 points on 15-of-25 shooting from the field with Casper grabbing nine points and Hamby handing out three assists to power the Squires to the win.

Following a loss to Wabash on Jan. 11, the Squires lone TRC blip to-date, Underwood and his side convened to assess their situation. The result has been five wins in the last six games, including three conference wins as Manchester now controls its own fate in the conference title race.

“Mid-season, after the Wabash game, we got together as a team and I said ‘OK guys, let’s look at what’s happened so far’ and we talked about things,” Underwood said. “And then I said ‘Let’s make some goals’… and their number one thing was they said they wanted to win all the rest of the conference games and they want to win the sectional. They are focused on that. There’s nobody you can overlook in this conference. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out the rest of the way. The nice thing at this point is, we know that we are in control of our destiny.”

Manchester (10-7) will have perhaps its toughest remaining TRC clash of the season on Friday at home against Peru. The Tigers are 8-8 overall but 4-2 in conference play on the year. Tip-off is set for 7:45 p.m.