Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 7, 2024

SAN DIEGO, CA – The Sharks continued to hammer home the point in their postgame press conference. 

“No moral victories,” HPU’s first-year head coach Jesse Nakanishi repeated. 

Yet following Hawai’i Pacific’s 56-55 loss to #6 seed Azusa Pacific Thursday afternoon, it’s difficult not to see those mini-victories that had been piling up all year for the Sharks. Despite that mounting momentum for HPU, APU had different plans for Round 3 of Sharks-Cougars. 

Hawai’i Pacific (18-11, 13-7 PacWest) struggled out the gate, going the opening three minutes of action without scoring after APU’s Ken West drilled a step back 3-pointer for the game’s first points on the opening possession. Charlie Weber finally got the Sharks on the board with a close finish inside at the 16:11 mark before Maj Dusanic delivered the first lead of the day to HPU on the very next possession with a nifty finish of his own. 

APU, though struggling offensively overall, caught fire from behind the arc in the early going as the team’s first four made shots came behind the 3-point line with forward George Reidy serving as the catalyst of the Cougars’ 12-6 lead just over eight minutes into the game. 

Nakanishi’s squad, just as they had all season, responded before allowing the game to get out of hand by attacking the paint and rattling off the next eight points to re-take the lead with just over nine minutes left in the first half, 14-12. The Sharks pushed the lead to four following a Melo Sanchez triple with 6:11 remaining before Azusa Pacific was able to knot things up at 21-all after a Reidy layup two minutes later. 

APU grabbed the lead to close out the half, going on a 9-4 run over the final two and a half minutes to take a five-point advantage into the break after redshirt freshman Michael Saba drilled a corner three at the horn to make it 30-25. 

Sanchez drained another three to open the 2nd half to bring the Sharks back within a possession, but Azusa Pacific’s Bryce Sloan would answer right back with a longball of his own on the next possession. HPU’s Weber tried his luck with a straightaway 3-point make before Reidy continued his hot shooting for another Cougars’ response.  

HPU would flip the script, scoring the next ten points to take a four-point lead of their own by the 12-minute mark before Saba snatched the lead back for Azusa Pacific quickly with five straight points to give a 42-40 advantage to the Cougars with 11:01 remaining. 

The teams traded baskets over the next six minutes, seeing the game tied up by the Sharks before APU would take the lead right back. The preseason PacWest favorites after falling in last season’s championship game, Azusa Pacific showed off the team’s championship DNA as they fought off valiant efforts from Hawai’i Pacific over the final four minutes to cling on and upset the Sharks, 56-55. 

Azusa Pacific’s George Reidy posted his 3rd-highest scoring output of the year, leading all scorers with 18 points while going a tidy 7-of-13 from the floor and 4-of-9 from long range. APU guard Bryce Sloan added 12 points, five assists and eight turnovers in the win while All-PacWest 1st-team selection Ken West ended the afternoon with 8 points. 

APU will take on #2 seed and PacWest regular season co-champion Academy of Art on Friday, March 7 with tip-off scheduled for 10:30 a.m. HT/12:30 p.m. PST. 

Hawai’i Pacific was led by Melo Sanchez’s 14 points of 5-of-15 shooting as the 2nd-team all-conference guard dealt with foul trouble for most of the contest. Charlie Weber ended the day with 11 points while 3rd-team all-conference pick Diggy Winbush did a little bit of everything with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in the loss for the Sharks. 

While Nakanishi didn’t want to hear or talk about moral victories postgame, it’s apparent that his Hawai’i Pacific program is on the rise with eyes on more than just a PacWest Conference tournament berth. With all but one player expected to return to the Sharks next year, HPU doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere but up. 

Either way, Nakanishi says it’s back to work for his team as soon as possible. 

A PacWest championship is the goal – stated by Nakanishi himself. 

Thursday served as a setback, sure, but only makes for a greater comeback. 

Three HPU Sharks selected to All-PacWest teams ahead of conference tournament

Three HPU Sharks selected to All-PacWest teams ahead of conference tournament

Three HPU Sharks selected to All-PacWest teams ahead of conference tournament

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 6, 2024

SAN DIEGO – The Hawai’i Pacific Sharks men’s basketball team received three honors from the PacWest Conference on Wednesday afternoon as guard Melo Sanchez was placed on the conference’s 2nd-team while Diggy Winbush and Maj Dusanic each received 3rd-team recognition. 

It was the first time any of the three had received end-of-year PacWest honors. 

The 2nd-team selection for Sanchez is the highest placement for a Shark since the 2020-21 season when Lachlan Viney made 1st-team. The sophomore shooter returned to HPU from the transfer portal this past offseason and put in work, finishing the regular season averaging the 9th-most points-per-game of any player in the league. The 6-foot-4 sniper also finished 2nd in the conference with 70 made 3-pointers this season, trailing only Azusa Pacific’s Ken West. 

Winbush, who joined the Sharks extremely late after last season and snatched the starting point guard job quickly, received 3rd-team honors in his first season at the Division II level. The Los Angeles, California product averaged the 4th-most assists per game of any player in the conference for the entire year and 2nd-most after league play began. Winbush also led the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio with 80 dimes to just 43 giveaways while averaging the 2nd-highest point total on the team. 

Dusanic was also named to the PacWest Conference’s 3rd-team after a fantastic second season in blue and grey as the captain forward poured in averages of over 11 points, five rebounds and two assists per game on a scorching 62% from the field, all while starting every one of HPU’s 28 contests this season. The Slovenian forward nearly doubled his scoring output from a year ago while posting three double-doubles, helping push the Sharks to the 3rd-best record in the league. HPU was predicted to finish 9th out of 11 teams in the preseason PacWest coach’s poll. 

Hawai’i Pacific will take on 6th-seeded Azusa Pacific on Thursday in San Diego, California in the quarterfinals of the PacWest Tournament with tip-off scheduled for 10:30 a.m. HT and will be broadcast on Hawai’i Sports Radio Network, 95.1 FM, AM 760 and hawaiisportsradio.com. The winner will face #2 seed and regular season co-champion Academy of Art on Friday at 10:30 a.m. HT in the semifinals. 

The Cougars, who were selected in the preseason as the conference’s top team, are led by three-time PacWest 1st-team selection Ken West and are looking to avenge last year’s performance when APU fell to Point Loma in the title game, 80-68. 

HPU uses defense, paint dominance on Senior Night to down Chaminade

HPU uses defense, paint dominance on Senior Night to down Chaminade

HPU 1st-year head coach Jesse Nakanishi flashes a double thumbs-up to the home crowd following the Sharks’ 77-72 victory on Senior Night over Chaminade. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

HPU uses defense, paint dominance on Senior Night to down Chaminade

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 29, 2024

HONOLULU – Alright, we know where we are dancing. 

The Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball team finished the 2023-24 home schedule flying high, taking down island rival Chaminade on Senior Night with a 77-72 victory as forward Maj Dusanic led the Sharks in front of a packed “Shark Tank” with 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting. The victory clinched a top-three seeding for first-year head coach Jesse Nakanishi’s squad in the PacWest Tournament as HPU returns to postseason play for the first time since the 2016-17 season. 

Before tip-off, the Sharks (18-9, 13-6 PacWest) would honor the only graduating senior in guard Tyrease Terrell – a transfer from Nicholls College and a Slidell, Louisiana-native that joined the program this past offseason in hopes of helping HPU turn around their recent luck on the men’s side. The 6-foot-3 graduate student has dealt with various adversities throughout his single year in the program – including missing playing in his own Senior Night due to a head injury – but always did it with a smile on his face. He was surprised with a video message from his close friends and family along with the Noelani students he has mentored and worked with in the “Shark Bite Mentorship Program” this year on O’ahu. 

Class A7 at the school signed a ball and made a poster in support of the guard’s big night and recorded a “thank you” video for the class favorite that was tear-provoking. 

Much like the women’s game from just before, Chaminade looked as though they would play spoiler of the Sharks’ celebration of Terrell – the lone graduating member of the HPU men’s roster – as the visitors opened an early 5-point lead over the Sharks after Scott Ator’s finish inside five minutes into the action. 

The Silverswords continued the early attack as sophomore standout Ross Reeves got in on the fun with five points in under 40 seconds to put CUH ahead by eight with 13:05 remaining in the first half, 17-9. HPU settled in with a pair of Dusanic finishes under the rim before Jacob Kimura’s first 3-point make of the season brought the Sharks within two just over 11 minutes before halftime. 

Charlie Weber followed it up 66 seconds later with a triple of his own to push the hosts ahead by one before getting fouled on another 3-point try and knocking in all three freebies. Matt Van Komen got on the board for the first time a minute after, giving HPU a six-point advantage with 8:02 to play in the half. 

Dusanic added two more buckets in the following minutes, helping HPU maintain the slim lead before some late-clock chaos struck. Turnovers, cold-shooting and Chaminade’s Reeves and Isaac Amaral-Artharee catching fire with a 12-5 run to end the half sent the visitors into the locker room leading by one, 40-39. 

“We came out of the gates slow,” Nakanishi said of his team’s first half performance. “We’re one of the better defensive teams [in the PacWest conference] and we gave up 40 in the 1st half, so a little slow but at least we scored [well in the 1st half].” 

Much like their counterparts before them, HPU quickly opened the 2nd half with some hot long-range shooting as Melo Sanchez drilled a triple before Diggy Winbush got loose for eight consecutive Sharks points (2 3PTM) to push HPU back in front, 50-46. After Amaral-Artharee and Van Komen traded 2-for-2 trips to the charity stripe, Winbush added another jumper to give Hawai’i Pacific a six-point advantage just under seven minutes into the second half. 

Back-to-back 3-pointers from Chaminade’s Kelton Samore pulled the Silverswords back within two, but back-to-back dunks (including an alley-oop) from the 7-foot-4 Van Komen gave the momentum right back to the Sharks. 

Each side continued trading baskets until Wyatt Lowell’s three with 8:09 to play gave the lead back to Chaminade, 63-62. Another HPU dunk, this time by Dusanic, pushed the Sharks back ahead momentarily until Jessiya Villa got a close-range shot to drop on the next possession for CUH. 

After a 30-second timeout from Nakanishi and HPU, the Sharks got another immediate boost in the arm with 7:08 left as Kimura drained a left-corner three – his second 3-point make of the season – putting the hosts in front for good. 

Dusanic provided some breathing room with another set of back-to-back scores for the team before Lowell brought Chaminade within three once again with 4:41 to play. Van Komen layed in another close-range try and Dusanic scored his 17th and 18th points of the night on the next possession to put the Sharks back up by seven with three and a half minutes left in regulation. 

“We really tried to make them guard more than one ball screen, more than one action and that’s where teams often lose guys like [Van Komen and Dusanic] a bit,” Nakanishi said of the 2nd half dominance in the paint. 

HPU, the top statistical defense in the PacWest going into the night according to points per game allowed, flexed that defensive might as they held Chaminade to four points over the final 3:37 to close out the win on Senior Night, 77-72. 

Chaminade was led by Wyatt Lowell’s 18 points as the senior forward went 3-of-8 from distance in the loss. Ross Reeves finished with 15 points, being held to just two after halftime as the Sharks keyed in on the standout sophomore. Isaac Amaral-Artharee ended his Chaminade Silverswords career with a 10-point outing, bringing his career total to 1,732 points and placing him second all-time in program scoring history. 

Hawai’i Pacific’s Maj Dusanic paced the Sharks with 18 points and 11 rebounds, tallying his third double-double of the season as the forward shot 9-of-10 from the floor. Diggy Winbush added 17 points while tying a season-best seven assists for HPU while Melo Sanchez and Matt Van Komen each chipped in 12 points in the victory. 

The loss ends an injury-riddled season for the Chaminade Silverswords, who finished the year at 10-18 overall and just 6-14 in PacWest play. Junior guard and third-leading scorer Jamir Thomas missed the final eight games of the season for Chaminade after tallying 11.6 points per game across 20 contests. 

“It felt good to get the win but not our best performance,” Nakanishi gave as an evaluation of the night. “[Chaminade]’s a tough team. They’ve got playmakers and they’ve got shot makers.” 

Hawai’i Pacific still has one more regular season game to play, visiting the University of Hawai’i-Hilo on Saturday before preparing for a long-awaited return to the conference tournament. The Sharks will look for a season sweep over UH-Hilo, who has also clinched a spot in next week’s PacWest tournament and is battling with Biola for the rights to the fourth seed over the fifth seed. 

HPU locked themselves into the third seed ahead of next week’s PacWest Tournament in San Diego, California with the win, regardless of Saturday’s result against the University of Hawai’i-Hilo.  

“I’m very proud of our guys,” Nakanishi said of clinching the PacWest’s three-seed. “It does mean a lot that we can get in the conference tournament and not just squeeze in there … we fell short of winning a regular-season championship, but we’ve got as good chance as anybody to go win it in the [PacWest] tournament.” 

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

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

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. 

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

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

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.