Georgia Tech fights off Hawai’i, advances to 2023 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic Championship

Georgia Tech fights off Hawai’i, advances to 2023 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic Championship

Georgia Tech fights off Hawai’i, advances to 2023 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic Championship

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 22, 2023

HONOLULU — There will be no repeat holiday magic in Mānoa this year. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors men’s basketball team (8-3), entering the 14th annual Diamond Head Classic for the first time as defending champions, fell inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center for the second time all season as the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-3) held off a furious ‘Bows second half comeback on Friday night, 73-68, in the semifinal round of the holiday tournament. 

Tech opened the game scoring the first six points before UH’s JoVon McClanahan drilled a three-pointer from top of the key as shot clock expired to get Hawai’i on the board two and a half minutes into the game. The visitors pushed it to a 10-3 lead before a four-point play from McClanahan made it a one-possession game once again as his Rainbow Warrior teammates struggled to score. 

“That’s a great team, give a lot of credit first,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said postgame. “I think [Georgia Tech] came out ready to roll. I’m surprised we didn’t [come out ready].” 

For the second consecutive night, Hawai’i would face some shooting woes in the first half as deficit grew to 11 before back-to-back Mor Seck buckets down low started to wake up the offense as the clock ticked under nine minutes remaining in the opening half. Hawai’i’s comeback effort continued with a right-wing triple from McKoy, cutting the deficit to six with his first points of the night with 7:23 left ahead of halftime. 

Georgia Tech recovered to push the lead back to 12 as the game clock ticked under six minutes remaining in the half before it looked like it was time for the reigning tournament MVP to take over. McClanahan, with a re-ignited vigor, quickly responded with two straight buckets of his own, then found McKoy in rhythm in the left corner to cut it to seven again with 3:29 left in the half.  

Following the final media timeout of opening 20, the ACC representatives would knock down back-to-back three-pointers and used a Baye Ndongo transition finish to snag a 16-point halftime lead over the tournament hosts, 43-27. The 27 points at the break were a season low for Hawai’i.  

“The big thing was the way that we finished the half. I think, and give [Georgia Tech] credit, they took the physicality to us from the start of the game, and we let that affect us in a way that we had lapses. We do not have many lapses,” Ganot said of his team’s first half performance.  

Things didn’t look much better immediately out of the locker room as the Tech lead grew to larger than 20 after Yellow Jackets’ forward Tafara Gapare blasted home a fast break slam just three minutes into the second half. The under-16 media timeout stopped play before the free throw of an and-one chance for UH’s Bernardo de Silva with the ‘Bows trailing by 19. 

That’s when the Rainbow Warriors decided to flip the game on its head for a bit. 

Matthew Cotton, who led Hawai’i with 15 points in Thursday’s opening round victory over Portland, dropped in his first bucket of the night by connecting from long range on the right wing to start the “Rainbow Avalanche” and was followed by a McKoy put back to start turning up the heat for a UH comeback.  

The pressure temperature only raised higher for Georgia Tech as the ‘Bows cut the lead to 10 with 13:22 left to play after a pair of de Silva free throw makes and UH made it single digits with a crafty Tom Beattie reverse layup. 

Following under-12 media timeout, Hawai’i would force a GA Tech shot clock violation, only increasing the noise inside the Stan Sheriff Center. It soon would match the night’s peak volume as Hawai’i reserve forward Harry Rouhliadeff scored six consecutive points with an and-one and right-wing triple to make it a one-possession game, 52-50, for the first time since early in the opening minutes of play.  

Juan Munoz brought the ‘Bows within one with a layup with seven minutes left and again sliced the Georgia Tech lead to a single point with two free throws at the 6:01 mark. Hawai’i finally would take the team’s first (and only) lead of the night with 4:35 left in regulation behind two free throw makes from de Silva.  

The Yellow Jackets quickly answered with four points of their own, giving the ACC squad a three-point lead with 3:38 left and forcing a Hawai’i timeout. 

Georgia Tech maintained a four-point lead following a 1-for-2 trip to the charity stripe for the Yellow Jackets’ Naithan George with 2:37 left before a Miles Kelly finish at the rim pushed it to a six-point advantage for Tech with under a minute remaining. 

Down to their final breath, the ‘Bows continued to battle as a de Silva and-one made it a one possession game with 45 seconds left in regulation but were unable to get a stop on the other end as Kelly dropped one in from inside the lane once again to give GA Tech breathing room with 34 seconds on the clock. 

McClanahan looked to give Hawai’i one last lifeline with an and-one opportunity of his own to potentially cut it to a two-point deficit with 10 seconds left, but the ensuing free throw came up a hair short and was rebounded by the Yellow Jackets as the ‘Bows fell, 73-68. 

“There was a loose ball there late, a miscommunication late, and good teams will make you pay, and they did,” said Ganot, reflecting on the semifinal ending. “Like I said, very disappointed in the first half but very proud of our guys’ effort. [It’s] part of the journey, we’ll get back to work.” 

Georgia Tech’s Baye Ndongo finished with a game-best 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the floor while chipping in 12 rebounds (six offensive) before fouling out late in the win for the Yellow Jackets. Tech out-rebounded Hawai’i, 46-28, and dominated the offensive glass, snagging 15 extra opportunities from misses throughout the night. 

Hawai’i’s McClanahan finished with season bests in points (19) and assists (8) in the loss, doing everything he could to try and return the ‘Bows to the title game for back-to-back seasons for the first time in the event’s 14-year history. 

“It’s tough,” McClanahan said of the emotions of the back-and-forth contest. “I feel like I’ve been in a lot of games like that and so have some of our guys… and we had an incredible crowd to bring us back with our poise and trusting each other. It is tough to come back and fight that hard and come up short, you know what I mean? Especially in a tournament like this when we definitely had a chance to go to the championship and defend our title.” 

UH forward Bernardo de Silva finished with 17 points and five rebounds while fellow forward Justin McKoy ended the game with 11 points and seven boards in the valiant — but ultimately fruitless — comeback try for Hawai’i. 

“It happens, it’s basketball — we are learning from it. I like our team a lot and I think a lot of people like our team,” McClanahan continued postgame. “We’ve just got more little things to clean up and we’ll be fine.” 

Hawai’i will get an opportunity to clean up those little things on Christmas Eve when they take on the TCU Horned Frogs (9-2) in the 2023 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic third-place game at 1:30 p.m. at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center.