MANOA — One last time at “The Stan”.
The University of Hawai’i (21-9, 12-6) celebrated senior night on a beautiful Saturday evening, as the ‘Bows completed a second-half comeback to take down visiting UC Irvine (21-9, 13-5), 72-67.
Is there anything SWEETER than a #SeniorNigh23 win over your conference rival before a sellout crowd?!?!?!#ManaOhana #PackTheStan. #GoBows 🌈 pic.twitter.com/b2JG5zW3sz— HAWAII BASKETBALL (@HawaiiMBB) February 26, 2023
JoVon McClanahan’s career-high 27 points and seven dimes helped lead the charge, and first-year center Mor Seck recorded a monster double-double (14 pts, 16 rebs) in the 7-footer’s first career start.
Seck was inserted into the starting lineup after the ‘Bows were forced to change the first five for the first time this season, with Bernardo de Silva missing the game with a left-ankle injury.
Bounce Back ‘Bows
Following his team’s gut-wrenching loss Thursday to UC Riverside, University of Hawai’i men’s basketball coach Eran Ganot felt confident in his team’s ability to bounce back in time for the ‘Bows senior night game against the top team in the Big West.
“They’ll rally,” Ganot said Thursday night when asked about how the team would respond to the loss. “The reason why we bring those kinds of kids in, for this reason. We’re seven and one after a loss, that’s not easy to do. It’s a great quality.”
Saturday was just another example of the resiliency that UH has shown all season. The Rainbow Warriors improved on the mark Ganot referred to, moving to eight and one following a loss this season.
The ‘Bows fed off the mana of the sell-out crowd early, jumping out to a 13-10 lead behind a hot start from McClanahan, Seck and Kamaka Hepa, who scored his only five points of the night in the game’s opening stretch.
After the game’s initial media timeout, UC Irvine began to settle into the game in a raucous Stan Sheriff Center filled with white shirts.
I didn’t even make it to the end of the line… this is the scene as fans make their way into SSC and wait for t-shirts …— Paul Brecht (@12brecht) February 26, 2023
Expect a LOT of white shirts in the stands tonight. #GoBows pic.twitter.com/einDiPcnxj
D.J. Davis, the Anteaters star lead guard, continued his hot start shooting and turnovers allowed UCI to score some easy points in transition as the visitors raced ahead, 26-21.
Seck gave UH a boost on both ends when play resumed after the under-8-minute media timeout, as the Senegal native scored four straight points for the Rainbow Warriors and blocked a shot after Samuta Avea’s first basket of the game tied it at 28 to get the ‘Bows faithful on their feet.
Davis would again answer for UCI as the Anteaters built a seven-point lead late into the first half. The Big West’s best defense responded though, holding Davis and UCI off the board for the final three minutes of the first half as they cut the halftime deficit to two, 35-33.
MBB | HALFTIME IN MANOA@UCImbb - 35@HawaiiMBB - 33— Paul Brecht (@12brecht) February 26, 2023
UCI’s Davis leads all scorers at halftime with 16 points (3-5 3PT), while JoVon McClanahan is pacing the ‘Bows with 13 points and 5 assists through 20 minutes of play.
The Big West’s most efficient 3PT team showing it here.
Noel Coleman finally got going once the game flipped to the final 20 minutes, getting his first points of the night at the 16:45 mark of the second half. Unfortunately for the ‘Bows, struggles finishing around the rim and the continued hot hand of Davis saw UC Irvine grow the lead back to seven.
First-year forward Harry Rouhliadeff got extended minutes Saturday and made the most of the opportunity. The big man contributed some timely buckets and allowing Seck to gain energy back on the bench.
It was the “McClanahan Show” all night for the ‘Bows though. The smaller lead guard showed again why he is one of the best players the conference has to offer, creating opportunities for teammates with his handle and court vision while cashing in from the mid-range the whole game.
After McClanahan cashed in on a pair of free throws to bring the ‘Bows within four, the hustle back of both him and Coleman from a turnover resulted in a Seck two-handed flush to get the Stan Sheriff Center standing once again.
Another miss by UCI rebounded by Seck gave way to McClanahan finding hometown-hero Samuta Avea, as the senior knocked down the go-ahead triple and sent the ‘Bows faithful into a frenzy.
“Top two, not [number] two,” Hepa said after the game when asked about where the environment and noise Saturday night would rank in his collegiate career. “When [Avea] hit the three to put us up, I’ve never been in a gym that loud.”
⚡️⚡️ in SimpliFi Arena tonight!#GoBows @HawaiiMBB pic.twitter.com/xYJEKW9CDI— Hawaii Athletics (@HawaiiAthletics) February 26, 2023
A Coleman layup made it a three-point ‘Bows lead, but Davis drilled another DEEP three to tie the game at 62-62 with four minutes left in regulation.
McClanahan cashed in on a pair of free throws and threw up a lob to Seck, who finished with a layup, to give UH a four-point lead with two minutes to go. Made free throws from Avea, Coleman and McClanahan again sealed the deal for Hawai’i, 72-67.
Despite the loss, Davis turned in an impressive showing for the Anteaters, finishing the night with 27 points on 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range. Dawson Baker struggled with his shot on the night, finishing with 12 points on 4-13 shooting. UC Irvine will close their regular season slate with another big road matchup with UC Riverside before hosting CSU Bakersfield.
McClanahan paced UH with 27 points and seven assists, keeping good on his pre-game promise to the seniors that the team would not lose on their night. Seck posted career-highs in both points and rebounds (14 pts, 16 rebs) in his first start.
Hepa scored five points and had five rebounds in his final game at SSC and was a game-high +12, showing his contributions go further than scoring. Avea had 10 points, including the go-ahead triple that helped push UH to the win.
After a grueling game, the ‘Bows, fans and team alike, celebrated a hard-fought victory to cap off the home career of three Rainbow Warriors.
Senior Night Send-Off in Style
Nobody does it like the University of Hawai’i.
The appreciation between ‘Bows fans supporting teams and the teams recognizing their support is truly astounding. There is a level of respect for all involved with the events that is uncommon in other places.
Following the Rainbow Warriors’ 72-67 victory over UC Irvine, fans remained in their seats for the postgame ceremony recognizing Juan Munoz, Samuta Avea and Kamaka Hepa’s contributions in their time at the University of Hawai’i.
Munoz, who has dealt with a bevy of serious injuries in his playing career, was announced first and went around the circuit to have leis placed on him. Following an embrace with Ganot, Munoz took his “Final Shot” in the Stan Sheriff Center, knocking down a cleanly-swished 3-pointer to the delight of the crowd.
“Juan, what he’s represented, what he’s given us, a love for the game and an ability to fight through more adversity than anyone,” Ganot reflected on his injured transfer guard. “Nobody should have to fight through the kind of adversity that he’s had to fight through, and yet nobody could’ve handled it better.”
Munoz was also presented with a video gram from his family, as they sent their well wishes and love to the graduate despite being unable to be in person.
Hepa was announced next, taking a similar path to Munoz before his “Last Shot” attempt went from a half-court heave to a makeshift alley-oop dunk. The Alaska-native and Texas transfer spent two seasons in the program and left a lasting impact both on the floor and, more importantly, off it.
“Kamaka, two years. I know I said I wish I could coach him longer than two [years], that’s it? That’s not fair,” Ganot chuckled. “When we signed Juan, Jerome [Desrosiers], Kamaka, we took a jump. For the on-court, off-court and in the classroom. Their impact here will be felt for a long time and I’m just so happy he’s with us.”
Samuta Avea was recognized last amongst the three players, nearly taking Ganot down with the size of the hug that the two men shared. Once ranked as the state’s top basketball recruit, Avea decided to stay home and play for the ‘Bows after leading Kahuku to the school’s first basketball state championship.
Much like with Munoz, hardships have been common for Avea. Following an opt-out of the 2020-21 season, Avea suffered an injury in the pre-season of 2021-22 that sidelined him for the entirety of the year and pushing his “senior” season another year further.
“When ‘Von hit those free throws [at the end],” Avea said postgame when asked if and when he saw this storybook ending to his home career at UH. “It really put the cherry on top for me.”
“[Avea], I tried not to look at him,” Ganot joked after the ceremonies. “I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, six years, known him for eight. I’m so proud of him. To see what he’s gone through, nobody misses three years between games and hangs in there. Yes, the big [3-pointer], I was just so happy for him because he had a couple of good looks early and I’m just yelling out to keep shooting those.”
Avea slammed home a two-handed dunk to cap off “Last Shot” moments for the honorees. A commemorative video, courtesy of Spectrum Sports, then played on the big screen to look back on the season and the players.
#HawaiiMBB Senior Night - “Last Shot” for Munoz, Hepa and Avea in SSC.— Paul Brecht (@12brecht) February 26, 2023
Shoutout to the crowd, with so many fans staying postgame to celebrate these seniors. #GoBows pic.twitter.com/rQXcQ80bY4
After the official ceremony had concluded with photos of the team, players went and greeted fans around the arena to thank them for their support and have them join in a bit more on celebrating the win over UCI.
As the sun has now set on the season’s slate of games at home for the ‘Bows, UH hits the road for two last conference games before they enter the Big West tournament, looking to fight for an automatic-qualifying bid to the 2023 NCAA March Madness Tournament.
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