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. 

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

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

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. 

Hawai’i uses strong 2nd half effort to pull away from Sharks, sinks HPU, 78-53

Hawai’i uses strong 2nd half effort to pull away from Sharks, sinks HPU, 78-53

Hawai’i uses strong 2nd half effort to pull away from Sharks, sinks HPU, 78-53

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 11, 2023

HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (7-1) saw a spunky effort from Hawai’i Pacific University (5-2) sputter out in the 2nd half, pulling away from the Sharks en route to the ‘Bows seventh victory of the season, 78-53. 

The two teams, both of whom play their home games in Mānoa as HPU competes just up the hill from SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center inside the “Shark Tank” on the former campus of St. Francis, got off to a back-and-forth start, knotted at 20 points each with just over eight and a half minutes left in the 1st half. That’s when UH’s super-sub-Juan Munoz set the court ablaze with another magnificent shooting display to close the half, hitting all six of his attempts from the floor (including three from long-distance) to lead all scorers with 15 points at the break. HPU’s Dominique “Diggy” Winbush paced the Sharks through a competitive opening 20 minutes of play, scoring over a third of his team’s points as HPU entered the locker room trailing 40-28. 

The 2nd half of action was when Hawai’i was able to flex their might and muscle, dominating the game in transition and getting nearly anything the ‘Bows desired offensively. UH senior Noel Coleman comfortably ticked over the 1,000-career point threshold for his college career in the final half of action as the lead for the Rainbow Warriors grew to as many as 27 points. 

It was another relatively quiet night for HPU leading scorer Melo Sanchez, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field as UH limited the airspace of the dynamic sophomore guard. HPU returns to action for the “Hoops in Hawai’i Classic” from December 17-19, first game on Sunday, December 17 at 5:45 p.m. at the “Shark Tank”. 

Hawai’i saw 10 different players score, including three in double figures, as the Rainbow Warriors picked up their second win in as many weeks in December. UH will be back in action on Sunday, December 17 when the ‘Bows host the 7-1 Nevada Wolfpack for one last tune-up ahead of the 2023 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. 

HPU looks for second-ever win when visiting UH-Mānoa on Sunday

HPU looks for second-ever win when visiting UH-Mānoa on Sunday

HPU looking for second-ever win against ‘Bows in Sunday matchup

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 7, 2023

HONOLULU — Old friends, new energy, and a pair of O’ahu-based college basketball teams off to strong starts to their 2023-24 seasons. 

The Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball team, now under the leadership of longtime high school coach and former UH assistant Jesse Nakanishi, will roll down the hill from the “Shark Tank” to the other show in Mānoa for a date with the 6-1 Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors this Sunday. The Sharks are currently riding the high of a 5-game winning streak after dropping the first two contests of the season, most recently taking down Fresno Pacific in a tightly-contested home win on Monday. 

While the game counts as just an exhibition for the Division II program, coaches and players alike are treating the matchup as anything but such. 

“Definitely not treating it as an exhibition,” Nakanishi said on Thursday. “We play all games the same way and we’re going to try and put our best foot forward to win this thing and compete at a high level.” 

The Sharks have changed up routine for practice a bit ahead of the matchup, switching to slightly shorter, more intense practices to increase efficiency in preparation for Sunday’s test. To do so, the coaching staff has also keyed in on player recovery and rest in time away from the court this week. 

Ahead of the “Battle for O’ahu,” here are three keys for HPU should the 5-2 Sharks want to come up with the program’s 2nd ever victory over its D1 counterpart and the first since the flip of the century. 


 

1. Control the painted area. 

HPU presents a different challenge than most Division II programs, employing a more-than-healthy sized front court with 7-foot-4 graduate transfer Matthew Van Komen patrolling the paint and the springy 6-foot-7 Slovenian Maj Dusanic right next to him. 

The Sharks don’t get much smaller when going to the bench, either. Backing up Van Komen is 6-foot-11 Tucker Pellicci, who has continued to provide quality minutes off the pine for Nakanishi and staff to allow the team to steal minutes of rest at a time for “Mount Van Komen” each half without significant drop-off. ETSU transfer Charlie Weber, who stands at 6-foot-9 and played a significant amount of center during his time on the mainland, made his debut on December 2 after missing HPU’s first five contests due to injury and enjoyed a hot-shooting 2nd half against Fresno Pacific by drilling deep two after deep two. 

With options inside, HPU has felt that the team’s strength lies with the post play. That hasn’t necessarily been the case for the Sharks on offense, seeing the top two scorers for the year play guard in Diggy Winbush and Melo Sanchez (more on him later). 

Defensively? That’s been an entirely different story. 

The Sharks are tied for 19th nationally in Division 2, averaging five blocks per contest across seven games. That number doesn’t include the impact that the shot blockers employed by HPU have on the multitude of attempts coming near and at the rim. It will be vital that the strong paint defense continues against a Hawai’i team that relentlessly attacks the lane with guards and has a quality big man in Bernardo de Silva. 

2. Get Melo Sanchez going once again. 

Told you we’d get back to him. 

The sophomore guard leads HPU in points per contest, putting in around 17 points per game for the Sharks. That number has rapidly dipped over the previous two outings as the 6-foot-4 guard was held to just seven points against each of Westmont and Fresno Pacific. Before then, the San Diego-native had scored 15 or more points in four of five appearances to begin the year, including a season-best 32 points at home against Slippery Rock that pushed his per-game average to 20.8 points in each outing. 

Opponents have keyed in on the guard at times this season, allowing others to get buckets of their own to help lead HPU to victory (most recently seeing Winbush explode for 27 points versus Westmont and earn PacWest player of the week honors). When it comes to matching up against the ‘Bows, however, Hawai’i Pacific will need the team’s best scorer to show up in the brightest lights yet this year. Sanchez had just nine points last season as a true freshman against UH up in Laie as he fouled out in 21 minutes and took just five total shots. 

The formula this time around needs to look much different for HPU and that means feeding Melo and letting the sophomore guard feast. It’s a tough ask against a UH program with many strong perimeter defenders but can serve as an excellent measuring stick for the guard and team to see where they are and where they need to get to as the schedule rolls along.

3. Don’t let the game slip away in bench minutes. 

One of the biggest concerns and toughest parts of games this season for HPU has been during the mainly-bench minutes. 

Now, it’s not because of a lack of quality players or poor play. There just hasn’t been a true scorer that has emerged with the second unit quite yet for HPU through seven games. Just once through those seven outings has there been a double-digit performance off the bench for HPU, coming in the season-opening loss at Alaska Fairbanks when Ethan Taafe finished with 10 points. 

Taafe has enjoyed a nice start to his second season at HPU, but the true piece to keep an eye out for is the aforementioned Weber. The 6-foot-9 forward expects to continue ramping up his minutes and play a key role for the Sharks as he moves out of the post and has shown off some wing ability as well. If the Division I transfer continues to work his sea-legs under him, Nakanishi and staff have an intriguing scoring piece to boost the second unit. 

It’s going to be important for HPU to compete in the bench minutes for both sides. Each team goes about nine players deep in the rotation but UH’s bench unit has been an exciting one that has led to big leads at times with young talents like Tom Beattie and Mor Seck. 

Should HPU pull off an upset, look back at how the bench units performed versus one another and if Weber is able to shake off a ton of the rust from the past two years off.