Sharks’ backcourt shows out late as Hawai’i Pacific takes down Biola for 4th straight win

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 10, 2024

HONOLULU – Stack ‘em up, Sharks. 

Jesse Nakanishi acknowledged the importance of his team stringing together wins in the second half of the conference schedule following HPU’s 66-58 win over Azusa Pacific back on January 23, noting that his squad had split the last three weeks of games with a win followed by a loss. While the Sharks would drop a heartbreaker at home against Point Loma that following Thursday, his team took the message to heart. 

Since the January 25 home loss against Point Loma, Hawai’i Pacific has not lost in four outings against varying opponents. It started on the road with a gutsy three-point win at Westmont, then was followed by robust performance and 16-point victory at Fresno Pacific before returning home to host two of the conference’s top four programs entering the week in Concordia-Irvine and Biola. 

The Sharks just kept swimming along. 

Hawai’i Pacific dominated Concordia-Irvine from the jump, blitzing the Golden Eagles out of the gate to take a 23-point lead into halftime before cruising to a 66-48 win Thursday night, pushing them into third in the PacWest after Biola fell the same night against UH-Hilo. With Thursday’s results, the Sharks’ homecoming game on Saturday against Biola provided an opportunity to put some distance between HPU and the Eagles. 

HPU did exactly that. 

After Charlie Weber opened the scoring with a right-wing three, Biola answered with a pair of buckets on the other end as Maximo Milovich and Casey Cappo tried to set a physical tone for the visitors. Diggy Winbush did not seem affected by the physical play of the Eagles at all, quickly heating up and scoring the next seven HPU points to push his squad ahead just four minutes into action, 10-9. 

Biola leading scorer Nathan Medina quickly got loose after the under-12-minute media timeout, scoring six consecutive points to push the Eagles back in front by three as the first half ticked under the 10-minute mark. The lead was short-lived as HPU’s Josh Niusulu drilled a triple to knot things at 16 a piece and Kordel Ng followed it up with a pair of makes at the foul stripe to put the Sharks ahead for good. 

Biola would tie things once more at 20-20, but a 13-3 run by HPU to end the half – accented by a Melo Sanchez run-out for a layup at the buzzer – gave Hawai’i Pacific a double-digit advantage going into the locker room. 

Following the break in the action, HPU continued to hold Biola at arm’s length as Niusulu silenced Medina for the second half by holding the sophomore guard scoreless after halftime. On the other end, the Sharks continued to follow the lead of the dynamic backcourt duo of Sanchez and Winbush to build a 16-point lead with less than nine minutes to play after the reigning PacWest player of the week in Sanchez drilled a tough triple on the left side to make it 55-39. 

Foul trouble for HPU and early bonus trips for Biola helped the Eagles bring the game within single digits again as Casey Cappo took over for the visitors and imposed his will before Matthew Van Komen and Maj Dusanic were able to close the paint for business. 

Despite Biola’s best efforts to extend the game as long as possible, the Sharks closed out their fourth consecutive victory and first win over Biola since January 2, 2020, as HPU went 12-of-14 from the charity stripe over the final 93 seconds of the contest and 21-of-28 overall from the foul line to take down the Eagles, 79-70. 

Biola was led by Cappo’s 18 points before the junior from Walnut Creek, California fouled out. Daniel Esparza finished the night with 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting while Medina ended the night with the seven first-half points after Niusulu’s brilliance on the defensive end. The seven points scored by Medina was the sophomore guard’s second-lowest output of the season. 

Hawai’i Pacific’s Diggy Winbush turned in an all-around exceptional performance with 18 points to go along with six boards while tying a season-high with seven assists. His backcourt duo Melo Sanchez poured in 17 points, 15 coming in the second half, to help push the Sharks into double-digit conference wins for the first time since the 2017-18 season. Big Matt Van Komen posted his first double-double with the Sharks, tallying 10 points and 13 rebounds while blocking three shots in 27 minutes of work. 

HPU now hits the road for a two-week West Coast trip, opening with a first-place date with conference-leading Point Loma before playing three of the other top-seven teams. Hawai’i Pacific sits just half-a-game behind Point Loma and Academy of Art for first place in the PacWest.