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Hawai’i grabs home revenge, holds off Long Beach State for important Big West win
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 24, 2024
HONOLULU – Play your best ball at the best time, they say.
The University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team continued to fight back up the Big West standings behind big efforts from Justin McKoy and Noel Coleman, knocking off Long Beach State (18-10, 10-6 Big West) in the islands Saturday night, 73-65.
Hawai’i (16-12, 8-8 Big West) took an early 5-2 lead behind an aggressive McKoy before the Beach strung together a pair of baskets to jump back ahead by one. A Ryan Rapp runout layup off a turnover and another tough McKoy finish gave a three-point lead to the ‘Bows again in a teetertotter opening four minutes of action.
Hawai’i’s lead grew to six thanks to the creative Juan Munoz, diming Bernardo de Silva for a layup before drilling a three on the right wing off the dribble. After an AJ George bucket for LBSU brought the visitors back within two with just over 10 minutes left in the first half, UH freshman forward Akira Jacobs got the friendly bounce on a left-wing three to push the advantage back to five.
Munoz continued to cook with six and a half left in the opening 20, handing out a nifty assist to de Silva off a pick-and-roll before slicing through the lane and spinning a layup off the glass to give Hawai’i its largest lead to that point, 27-20.
Once again, the Beach fought back within a possession as Varick Lewis dropped home a tough jumper before Munoz’s off-ball gravity drew a foul to send the game into the 1st half under-4-minute timeout. Following the stoppage, it was McKoy lighting it up once again with back-to-back 3-pointers to push Hawai’i’s lead to eight with two and a half minutes left in the half.
JoVon McClanahan made his long-anticipated return to the floor for the Rainbow Warriors with just over 90 ticks remaining and immediately made an impact, assisting another McKoy bucket to extend the Hawai’i lead. Noel Coleman gave the ‘Bows their largest lead of the first half the very next possession with his first points of the night on a triple, making it 40-31 in favor of UH with 45 seconds before half.
Amari Stroud, who replaced an injured Lassina Traore after the all-conference forward went down with a right leg injury late in the opening half, drained a pair of foul shots after drawing contact from UH forward Harry Rouhliadeff to make it a seven-point deficit for the visitors going into the break.
HALF: #HawaiiMBB 40, LBSU 33.— Paul Brecht (@12brecht) February 25, 2024
‘Bows enter halftime up seven behind @justintmckoy’s 15pts on 6/8 FG. UH w/ 10 assists on 16 made FGs.
Big story from 1H — LBSU all-conference forward Lassina Traore needed assistance leaving floor w/ right leg injury.@HIsportsradio @SportingTrib
McKoy picked up directly where he had left off to begin the 2nd half, drilling a 3-pointer to get play started out of the midway break. Noel Coleman cashed in seven of Hawai’i’s next nine points (with McKoy scoring the other basket) as the ‘Bows opened up a 15-point lead quickly, forcing LBSU head coach Dan Monson to call for a 30-second timeout ahead of the under-16-minute break.
Long Beach State drew back within 11 again after a putback by George, but another Coleman transition triple sparked the SimpliFi Arena crowd once again going into the under-12-minute media timeout with Hawai’i leading, 57-43.
“[The coaching staff] has always talked about wanting to play fast and get in transition and we kind of struggled with that in the beginning of the season,” Coleman said of the Hawai’i transition attack postgame. “We’re starting to find a rhythm and you can see the results … it just motivates the team to [run] more and more.”
The stop in momentum came to the advantage of the Beach as the visitors cut the ‘Bows cushion down to 8 with 7:59 to play after Aboubacar Traore knocked down three free throws in four attempts.
McKoy got a teardrop floater to fall after the timeout to push Hawai’i back up double digits as the ‘Bows turned up the intensity on the other end. A pair of Rouhliadeff makes from the line made it an 11-point game with less than five to play and Munoz ended his quiet 2nd half with an important triple at the 4:22 mark to give a 66-53 lead to the Rainbow Warriors.
Long Beach would not go away, tightening the game to six with just over a minute to play behind Lassina Traore and AJ George’s efforts before a clutch Coleman finish with his off hand gave the breathing room needed to close things out. The left-handed Belgian swished home four straight free throws to ice the game and help Hawai’i snag a significant win, 73-65.
Long Beach State was led by AJ George’s 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting as the sophomore guard toiled for 37 minutes against the Rainbow Warriors. Aboubacar Traore added 15 points and seven rebounds for The Beach while 6-foot-10 forward Lassina Traore collected 14 points and 14 rebounds as LBSU’s five-game win streak was snapped.
Justin McKoy put up a career-high for the second time against Long Beach State this season with a game-best 26 points and six rebounds, going 10-of-14 from the floor while drilling four 3-pointers. The graduate transfer put up a then-career-best 22 points at Long Beach back on January 18.
“I think [McKoy] is putting it all together,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said of the UNC transfer’s recent star turn. “He’s just checking boxes and now he’s playing probably as well as he’s played in his career … He’s got a bright future.”
Hawai’i won the battle on the glass against the Big West’s 2nd-best rebounding team in LBSU, 34-29, while holding the Beach to just four offensive rebounds all night. Saturday night against UH marked the first time Long Beach State failed to score above 70 points in the month of February.
Along with his quality perimeter defense, Noel Coleman added 18 points, 15 coming after halftime as the senior guard helped the ‘Bows hold off a hard-charging LBSU squad and move back to .500 in the Big West. The win keeps top-4 seed hopes alive for the Rainbow Warriors with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
After beginning the conference slate 2-6, Hawai’i has won six of eight to push the momentum in the right direction with four games remaining before the Big West tournament.
“We’ve just been having a lot more fun,” Coleman said of the recent on-court success of the ‘Bows. “I think we’re on the right path, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Hawai’i hits the road for one final two-game series still looking to clinch an official berth in the conference tournament as they visit UC Davis on Thursday, February 29 before heading to UC Riverside on March 2 for two pivotal games for the Rainbow Warriors.
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