Emotional day ends with elusive home win over UH-Hilo for Hawai’i Pacific men’s basketball

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 20, 2024

HONOLULU — It was an emotional Saturday in Mānoa. 

The Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball team (10-6, 5-3 PacWest) got back on track with a hard-fought, overtime win over in-state rival UH-Hilo (11-8, 5-5 PacWest), 69-66, picking up the first home win for the Sharks against the Vulcans since moving into the “Shark Tank” on the former campus of St. Francis High School on January 20. 

The game had been pinned for months as a celebration in honor of the memory of former HPU Shark and Punahou alum Kameron Steinhoff, who tragically passed away in May of 2011, with the 12th annual “Kam’s Helmets” game, handing out 150 helmets to local youth to help prevent future accident-related tragedies thanks to generous donations by T&T Tinting, Leavitt, Yamane & Soldner Group and the Hawai’i Bicycling League. In all, over 1,500 helmets have been handed out since 2011 in honor of Kam’s memory because of the Steinhoff Family’s hard work and partnership with HPU men’s basketball. 

The game became heavier for the Sharks earlier in the week when guard Nikola Milojevic had to step away from the team to be with family following the sudden passing of his father, international legend and current assistant with the Golden State Warriors’ Dejan Milojevic. The men’s program held a moment of silence before the game in honor of “Decky” as the team huddled around each other. 

With both sides down a starter (HPU’s Matt Van Komen missed his fifth consecutive game while UH-Hilo was without leading scorer Carlos Ramsey Jr.), it was the Sharks who came out of the gate quickly with the game’s first four points before the Vulcans broke the ice with a Jake Kosakowski three-pointer. Hilo would take its first lead 50 seconds later on a Jarin Edwards’ putback to make it a 5-4 game. 

The teams took turns trading the lead back and forth before HPU’s Tyrease Terrell drained a couple of triples, continuing his recent hot stretch from long range, to give the Sharks a six-point lead at the first half’s under-12-minute media timeout. After the stop in the action, the Vulcans would respond with a 9-2 run to re-take the lead, 19-18, with another Edwards’ layup after UHH guard Drew Yezbak came up with a steal of Maj Dusanic.  

The half ended just as it started, passing the lead between one another as Hilo’s Zoar Nedd got the shooting touch going from long range to help the Vulcans go to the locker rooms with a one-point advantage, 28-27. 

HPU’s Diggy Winbush and Charlie Weber, the defending player of the week in the PacWest, would help keep the Sharks in line with Hilo in the second half as leading scorer Melo Sanchez continued to struggle against the ball denial of the Vulcans by scoring nine of the first 15 points in the second half to knot the game at 42-all with 11:55 remaining in regulation.  

Hawai’i Pacific would re-take the lead two possessions later as Dusanic continued what was an excellent performance for the 6-foot-7 Slovenian forward with a layup through traffic and a block of Hilo’s Charles Elzie III on the other end. 

From there, neither side could get anything larger than a two-possession lead as the teams locked in on each end of the court, knowing the importance of a win for each’s PacWest hopes. The Sharks held a four-point advantage with 3:44 left after Dusanic got a short jumper to go and drew a charge against Hilo forward Kalique Mitchell quickly after, but a never-say-die effort from the Vulcans tied the game at 59 with 1:03 remaining. 

Winbush looked to get into the paint and couldn’t get a jumper to go through some contact before Hilo’s Elzie threw the ball out of bounds with four seconds left to keep the game knotted up heading to an overtime period.  

That’s Diggy Time. 

The junior guard was directly responsible for four instances of either tying the game up or taking the lead, including once-and-for-all with a pair of free throw makes, in the overtime period for the Sharks as HPU snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Vulcans and picked up the first win at home against their state rivals since moving from Moanalua’s gym into the “Shark Tank” ahead of the 2019-20 season. 

UH-Hilo was led by Elzie III and Nedd, each dropping 13 points in the loss for the visitors. The Vulcans will return home to take on Point Loma on Tuesday, January 23. 

Winbush led the way for Hawai’i Pacific, tallying 20 points to go along with five boards and six assists, going 5-of-6 from the charity stripe to help secure the win. Dusanic put in an efficient afternoon’s work with 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the floor while Charlie Weber posted his eighth straight double-digit outing with 11 points and four rebounds. 

The Sharks remain home for two more games, including an important matchup with Azusa Pacific as HPU has the first “Field Trip Game” with nearly 400 students from local elementary schools being bussed in for the noon game on Tuesday, January 23. 

Tune into all the action on 95.1 FM, AM 760 and streaming on hawaiisportsradio.com or catch the game afterwards on demand where most podcasts are found and under the “HPU Sharks” tab on HSRN’s website.