HPU forward Charlie Weber drives against Dominican (CA) in a game on January 13 that the Sharks won, 83-72. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

HPU’s “Field Trip Day” results in playoff atmosphere, big win over preseason PacWest favorite APU

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 23, 2024

HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball team (11-6, 6-3 PacWest) hosted over 400 screaming elementary school students from Mānoa and Noelani on Tuesday for the first annual “Field Trip Day” as the Sharks took down conference preseason favorite Azusa Pacific, 66-58. 

A part of HPU’s men’s basketball team’s “Shark Bite Mentorship Program” and community outreach in the first year of Jesse Nakanishi’s tenure, the Sharks go to the two elementary schools once a month to discuss healthy living, the importance of taking care of business in the classroom and playing games together among many other things. To continue the bond that has grown between players and the students, HPU and the schools agreed to have the students bussed in for a special time to see the young men that worked with them throughout the fall with a special outing on Tuesday. 

HPU opened the game scoring the first four points as Maj Dusanic and Charlie Weber got back-to-back buckets to go down and took a 6-3 lead after Weber got a short jumper to drop. After APU guard Bryce Sloan sliced the nylon from deep to tie things at six, the Sharks rattled off a 12-2 run to grab control of the game and take an 18-8 lead with 7:56 remaining in the first half. 

The two-headed monster of Dusanic and Weber continued to power the Sharks’ offense, scoring 14 of 16 HPU’s points to close the half — including back-to-back three-pointers from the left wing to send Hawai’i Pacific into the break with a 14-point lead, 34-20. 

Dusanic continued an explosive scoring outburst with a two-handed slam when action resumed in the second half to match their largest lead of the game, 36-20, sending the 415 screaming elementary schoolers into a frenzy. 

The teams would trade baskets until the 12-minute mark when Azusa Pacific started to cut into the Sharks’ lead as leading scorer Ken West finally got on the board with a few buckets. Three-pointers from APU’s Trevan Martin and Nate Kleppe brought the Cougars with six, 48-42, with just over eight minutes remaining in regulation to force Nakanishi to call for a timeout. 

Azusa closed the gap all the way down to one with 3:13 left after West drilled a triple and forward George Reidy went a perfect 2-of-2 at the charity stripe, making it 3:13 and leaving the packed gym uneasy with the game in the balance. 

Diggy Winbush calmed those nerves with a huge three from straight away to push HPU’s lead back to four the very next play, going over 200 points on the season and becoming the first junior college player to join the Sharks and eclipse that threshold in their debut season since the 2018-19 season when Ronald Blain accomplished the feat. He would score the next three points for Hawai’i Pacific to grab some breathing room as the Sharks showed off their excellent late game execution again to pull out their second consecutive win and eighth win inside the “Shark Tank” this season, 66-58. 

APU’s Bryce Sloan led all scorers with 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the floor, dropping four threes to go along with six boards and six assists in the loss for the Cougars, who sit a game and a half outside of the top six and playoff positioning in the Pacific West conference. Forward Ken West finished with 10 points, all coming in the second half as the Sharks shut down APU’s top scorer for much of the contest. 

Hawai’i Pacific was led by Maj Dusanic’s career-high 22 points, the first time the senior has eclipsed the 20-point threshold in his college career, en route to earning HSRN’s “YeahU Player of the Game” honors. Forward Charlie Weber posted 19 points, his ninth consecutive game finishing in double-digits for the Sharks, continuing his efficient scoring efforts since entering the starting lineup with an 8-of-12 shooting performance. 

HPU will host Point Loma on Thursday, January 25 inside the “Shark Tank” for a massive PacWest matchup between two of the top four teams in the conference. PLNU comes to O’ahu following a crushing overtime defeat to UH-Hilo on Tuesday after former UH-Mānoa forward Zoar Nedd’s heroic shooting efforts helped to sink the Sea Lions.