Pepper, UC Davis holds off furious Hawai’i comeback attempt to advance to Big West championship

Pepper, UC Davis holds off furious Hawai’i comeback attempt to advance to Big West championship

Pepper, UC Davis holds off furious Hawai’i comeback attempt to advance to Big West championship

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 15, 2024

Too little, too late. 

After falling down by as much as 17 in the 2nd half, fifth-seeded Hawai’i gave second-seeded UC Davis a scare in the final minutes as the ‘Bows had a shot to take the lead with five seconds to play that bounced off back iron, allowing the Aggies to escape to Saturday’s Big West Tournament championship against Long Beach State. 

Hawai’i, coming off a 75-68 victory over #7 CSUN on Thursday, started slowly as UC Davis raced out to an 11-2 lead out of the gates behind the hot shooting of the three-guard lineup of Kane Milling, Ty Johnson and Big West Player of the Year winner Elijah Pepper. The Aggies continued to flex the offensive fire power by hitting nine of the first 12 attempts from the field en route to a 20-6 lead after eight minutes of action. 

The ‘Bows shook off the slow start to stick around, cutting the UC Davis lead to three with a 18-7 run over the next four minutes of game action behind a litany of Rainbow Warriors finding their touch from the field as UH drilled a pair of triples and attacked the rim far better than early on. 

Back-to-back Munoz 3-pointers brought Hawai’i within two and the 8th-year guard whipped a pass to Bernardo de Silva for a two-handed dunk to end the opening half keeping UH down a pair, 31-29. 

The 2nd half began similar to the first for Hawai’i, watching another sizzling UC Davis offensive spurt with a 17-2 run out of the break leading to a game-high 17-point lead for the Aggies after Pablo Tamba finished an alley-oop lob from Elijah Pepper with 13:57 left to play. 

Following a 30-second timeout from head coach Eran Ganot, Hawai’i’s offense settled once again as Ryan Rapp drained a straight away triple for the ‘Bows first field goal of the 2nd half. Justin McKoy scored the next four points before Munoz drilled another 3-pointer for Hawai’i, but UH continued struggling getting stops against UC Davis as the margin remained 17 through the 10:47 mark of the 2nd half. 

A 7-0 Hawai’i run in a blink of an eye brought the ‘Bows back within ten after Akira Jacobs drilled his 2nd 3-pointer of the evening before making his third and fourth foul shots of the season to make it 58-48 UC Davis with 8:31 left to play. While the deficit remained around double-digits until the three-minute mark for Hawai’i, the ‘Bows had their swagger back for one last push for an upset in the semifinals. 

Six consecutive makes from the free throw line for UH brought Hawai’i within four, 66-62, with 1:17 left in regulation before Pepper lost the ball off his leg to give the ‘Bows a chance to cut it to a one-possession game with more than a minute left. 

Ty Johnson came up with a clutch strip on McKoy’s drive on the next possession, keeping the two-possession lead for UC Davis while the Aggies drained every second off of the clock possible. After Hawai’i forced a shot clock violation, McClanahan powered through contact for an and-one at the rim that brought UH within one, 66-65, with 27 seconds to play. 

Without any timeouts, the Rainbow Warriors came up with a steal at midcourt as Noel Coleman jumped a passing lane to provide the go-ahead chance to Hawai’i but McClanhan’s stepback jumper from the left elbow bounced off back rim and Justin McKoy was called for a loose-ball foul as the ‘Bows fell in the semifinals, 68-65. 

UC Davis All-Big West 1st team selection and conference Player of the Year Elijah Pepper willed the Aggies to victory down the stretch, pouring in a game-high 25 points on 10-of-23 shooting with 17 points coming in the final 20 minutes. Kane Milling followed behind with 14 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of action while Ty Johnson added 12 points and five dimes in the victory for UC Davis. 

Hawai’i was led by Bernardo de Silva’s 14 points in 34 minutes, making 5-of-6 FG attempts and going 4-for-6 at the charity stripe in the loss. Juan Munoz and Justin McKoy were the other two Rainbow Warriors in double figures, finishing with 11 and 10 points respectively. 

JoVon McClanahan added nine points off the bench for Hawai’i, going 7-for-7 at the free throw line and nearly adding one final buzzer-beating memory to his UH ledger as his jumper went awry for the ‘Bows at the end.  

Freshman Akira Jacobs matched a season-high with eight points and a pair of 3-pointers while Tom Beattie provided physical defense across 31 minutes and chipped in a bucket in the ‘Bows loss. 

Hawai’i now discusses postseason options for a large graduating class of six seniors, considering joining the College Basketball Invitational tournament, a single-elimination tournament featuring 16 teams that were not selected to the NCAA Tournament or NIT. Teams participating in the CBI pay a $27,500 entry fee for playing in the tournament. 

Hawai’i takes rubber match over CSUN, moves into Big West semifinals

Hawai’i takes rubber match over CSUN, moves into Big West semifinals

Hawai’i guard Noel Coleman attacks the rim during a home win over UC Bakersfield. The senior was one of four ‘Bows that scored in double figures in the Rainbow Warriors’ Big West Tournament quarterfinal win over CSUN on March 14. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i takes rubber match over CSUN, moves into Big West semifinals

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 14, 2024

On to the next one. 

For the second time in three seasons, third-seeded Hawai’i (20-13, 11-9 Big West) advanced into the Big West Tournament semifinals after taking down tenacious seventh-seed CSUN on Thursday night in the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev., 75-68, for the ‘Bows fourth straight win. 

The Matadors (19-15, 9-11 Big West), who entered the day coming off a late-night overtime victory over Ajay Mitchell and UC Santa Barbara for the program’s first win in the conference tournament in a decade, looked like the team that received the 1st-round bye into the tournament as they scored four of the first five baskets of the game to jump out to an 8-2 lead just five minutes into action. Hawai’i’s offense struggled out the gates, needing to shake off some rust while shooting just 1-for-8 from the floor and committing a pair of turnovers. 

Bernardo de Silva split a pair of free throws before Noel Coleman finally ended the FG drought for the ‘Bows, drilling a 3-pointer from the right side to double UH’s scoring output from the first six minutes with one flick of his left wrist. 

Coleman’s bucket helped see the offense find friction for Hawai’i as Tom Beattie pushed down the floor quickly after for a right-handed layup before Justin McKoy got on the board for the first time in the Big West Tournament twenty seconds later to pull UH within a possession, trailing CSUN 12-10. 

“Early on in the year when we were struggling, teams went on runs and we didn’t respond and stop the bleeding early enough … [At this point of the season] we know to cut the bleeding, go on our own run and respond and I thought we’ve been doing a great job of that as of late and I thought we did it today,” McKoy said, discussing the team’s bounce back from a rough shooting start. 

McKoy, who earned his first career All-Conference team selection earlier this week when he was named 2nd-team All-Big West, strung together five more points in a row for the ‘Bows with a trip to the line and his first triple of the evening before sophomore forward Harry Rouhliadeff made it a new ball game with 8:38 left in the opening half, tying it at 20 with five points. 

Senior guard JoVon McClanahan delivered the ‘Bows first lead since the second possession of the game with his first basket of the night, dancing his way to the cup with 6:20 remaining before halftime. The two sides traded the lead back and forth over the next few minutes before Rouhliadeff hit a pair of free throws and Coleman sunk a close-range bucket to give Hawai’i multi-possession lead for the first time all evening. 

Trouble hit when Rouhliadeff left the game at the 2:23 mark after taking a nasty fall and appearing to hit his head on the ground. The sophomore had chipped in seven points and five rebounds while collecting an emphatic block on defense off the bench before being helped off the floor following the fall. He did not return to the game. 

“I thought that was kind of a microcosm of the year,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said after the game. “We dealt with adversity all year, we dealt with adversity in the game. Harry had a great first half and went out and he stepped up, [then] we had to step up for him.” 

Freshman forward Akira Jacobs checked in to replace Rouhliadeff for the final two minutes of the half, drilling one from long-distance to push Hawai’i into the locker rooms leading by six, 36-30. 

While the ‘Bows got plenty of help from the youth over the opening 20 minutes, it was the program’s seniors that stepped up to help Hawai’i maintain control throughout the 2nd half. 

Coleman, de Silva and McKoy scored Hawai’i’s first 17 points out of the break, helping the ‘Bows push the lead into double digits before the Matadors were able to string together an 8-0 run to make UH’s lead just 53-51 with under 12 minutes left in regulation. 

Akira Jacobs ended the Hawai’i scoring drought with an easy finish inside off a nice feed from Ryan Rapp to put UH back up four before de Silva sandwiched a Coleman 3-pointer with a couple of layups and Beattie scampered out for a fast-break layup to give the ‘Bows an 8-point lead once again with 5:25 remaining. 

CSUN junior Keonte George would not let the Matadors fade easily, dashing down the floor for back-to-back transition buckets to pull CSUN within a possession a minute and a half after the Rainbow Warriors’ run. Dionte Bostick put one last scare in Hawai’i fans by bringing CSUN within two, 68-66, with 2:35 left but that was the closest that the seventh-seeded Matadors would get the rest of the night. 

Hawai’i iced the game from the line as Coleman, McKoy and de Silva all made foul shots down the stretch to deliver the Rainbow Warriors to victory, 75-68. 

All-Big West 1st-Team selection De’Sean Allen-Eikens led all scorers on the night, pouring in 22 points and nine rebounds, going 9-of-19 from the field in 39 minutes for CSUN. Guard Dionte Bostick added 18 points but went 0-for-4 from 3-point range as the Matadors struggled from distance all night, going 3-of-17 from behind the arc in the loss. 

Hawai’i’s Justin McKoy shook off a poor shooting night to lead the ‘Bows in scoring, dropping 16 points while drilling three triples as four different Rainbow Warriors finished the game in double-figures for points. Bernardo de Silva, who was an All-Big West honorable mention this year, followed closely behind with 14 points and nine boards in the win for the ‘Bows. The 5th-year senior also passed the career 1,000-point threshold in the 2nd half, becoming the second Rainbow Warrior to achieve the feat this year (Coleman). 

“Bernardo has been great all year … [playing with] four fouls and he was able to stay in the game and just defend and I think that defense was huge for us, especially in the paint,” McKoy said of his Brazilian forward’s savvy play down the stretch. 

Noel Coleman and Juan Munoz finished with 12 points and 11 points respectively, hitting a combined five 3-pointers to out-shoot CSUN from long range by themselves. 

Hawai’i advances to Friday’s Big West Tournament semifinals and a date with #2 UC Davis, another program that the ‘Bows split the regular season series with. The Aggies pose a tough challenge, boasting Big West Player of the Year Elijah Pepper alongside a talented supporting cast. UH head coach Eran Ganot was unable to give an update on the status of forward Harry Rouhliadeff’s availability for Friday following the game. 

“We were smart about [his injury] and we’ll get more information. I don’t have any information now, but we’ll get it and provide it and kind of go from there,” Ganot shared. “It was good to be able to get it done without him and step up for him while we figure out his situation.” 

Hawai’i dominated UC Davis back on February 10, 87-70, part of the stark late-season turnaround by the ‘Bows that saw UH go 9-3 over the final 12 games of the regular season. One of those three losses did come when Hawai’i visited UC Davis two and a half weeks later and fell, 75-63. 

“I just think those [earlier] experiences – losing close games early, winning close games late, losing overtime games and then winning overtime games late,” Ganot said postgame. “Sometimes you got to go through it and sometimes you have got to grow from pain, but this group stayed together through all of that.”