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. 

Hawai’i Pacific cruises past Concordia-Irvine behind Sanchez’s double-double

Hawai’i Pacific cruises past Concordia-Irvine behind Sanchez’s double-double

Hawai’i Pacific cruises past Concordia-Irvine behind Sanchez’s double-double

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 8, 2024

HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball team dispatched Concordia-Irvine University (10-11, 7-8 PacWest) on Thursday night inside the Shark Tank, using the combo of captains Maj Dusanic and defending PacWest Player of the Week Melo Sanchez to ground the Golden Eagles, 66-48. 

HPU (14-7, 9-4 PacWest) worked itself out to an early 8-4 lead as Dusanic got a trio of easy baskets to go down, including a two-handed stuff, while CUI’s offense sputtered along. Golden Eagles’ guard Jackson Tucker took things into his own hands, scoring three points in a row for the visitors before Jesse Nakanishi’s team turned the defensive intensity up another level. 

The Sharks ripped off a 14-0 run, spanning past the midway point of the opening half of play to take a 22-7 lead after Melo Sanchez found Ethan Taafe for a triple with 9:43 left in the frame and forced a timeout from Concordia-Irvine’s 23rd-year head coach Ken Ammann. His team finally snapped the scoring drought on the other side of the timeout with a pair of Jackson Harding makes from the charity stripe, but HPU answered right back with five straight points of their own as Matthew Van Komen muscled home his second layup of the night before Josh Niusulu drilled a reset-and-shoot triple to push it out to an 18-point advantage before the visitors could score again. 

After another quick three-point run from CUI, the Sharks turned up the long-distance shooting by drilling three straight three-pointers, tripling up Concordia 36-12 with 1:59 remaining in the first half as Sanchez laced the nylon once again from deep. The Golden Eagles’ offense finally recovered just before the break, pushing five points on the board thanks to Charlie Dalton while the Sharks added a couple more baskets to go into halftime with Hawai’i Pacific leading, 40-17. 

The Golden Eagles started the second half far better, ripping off a 15-4 run over the first eight minutes and forty-five seconds out of the halftime break to bring the game within striking distance, 44-32. 

That’s when Sanchez, the reigning PacWest player of the week, took things over for the Sharks’ offense as he drilled a deep three from the top of the key before finding Van Komen on the next trip down the floor for an easy lay-in to push the lead back up to 17 and steady the team once again. 

Niusulu added consecutive layups to make it a 20-plus point advantage again for HPU with just under nine minutes left to play, becoming the third different Shark to reach double figures on the night with 13 points. CUI put on one last run, bringing the margin within 11 with five and a half minutes remaining but never came closer as Hawai’i Pacific closed out the final four minutes with Dusanic and Sanchez taking turns sticking in the daggers of a 66-48 win. 

CUI was led by graduate forward Tim Adetukasi, who racked up 12 points on just 4-of-13 shooting from the floor across 35 minutes of action. Sophomore forward Jackson Tucker followed closely behind with 11 points while freshman forward Charlie Dalton added nine points and seven rebounds in the loss for the Golden Eagles. 

Melo Sanchez continued his all-around play for the Sharks, turning in his first double-double of the season with a game-best 16 points to go along with 10 boards. Sharks forward Maj Dusanic tailed his co-captain closely, ending the night with 15 points and nine rebounds — narrowly missing out on his second consecutive double-double and third total of the year. 

Hawai’i Pacific returns to the hardwood this Saturday, hosting Biola for the second-to-last home game of the season with eyes on second place in the conference standings. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. HT or following the conclusion of the women’s contest. HPU is currently within a game of Academy of Art, Point Loma and Biola in the race to the PacWest tournament’s top-four berths.  

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 welcomes familiar face in Nakanishi, HPU for Sunday clash

Hawai’i welcomes familiar face in Nakanishi, HPU for Sunday clash

Hawai’i welcomes familiar face in Nakanishi, HPU for Sunday clash

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 8, 2023

HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors will look to continue a strong start to the season on Sunday, suiting up against Division II Hawai’i Pacific University for just the second game of December for UH. The ‘Bows opened the month with season-high 95 points in a victory over Central Arkansas on December 3, seeing an entire week to recover and prepare for the Sharks. 

The focus, as always for Eran Ganot’s Hawai’i teams, was “UH first” to begin the week as the Rainbow Warriors looked back at film to correct mistakes from the past weekend. Senior captain Bernardo de Silva admitted on Wednesday that the ‘Bows hadn’t started to look towards their fellow Mānoa basketball residents, aiming first to clean up those previously-mentioned errors from the matchup with UCA. 

That didn’t mean that Hawai’i wouldn’t be pouring resources into that preparation for the rest of the week or that the ‘Bows were underestimating the Sharks, who enter Sunday’s matchup with a five-game winning streak. In fact, Ganot mentioned multiple times during his Wednesday media availability the respect that the program has for former assistant coach Jesse Nakanishi, who now heads the Sharks after serving as the associate head coach for the past two seasons, and the rest of his staff for the work they put in. 

“[Nakanishi]’s done a great job, he’s going to do a great job, all these coaches in Hawai’i are doing a great job,” Ganot said of his former understudy. “You’re always sad to see [former assistant coaches] go but you root for them like crazy and you’re not surprised by their success.” 

In talking about Nakanishi, the longtime UH coach shared some of the things that makes the first-year college head coach a quality hire already paying off. 

“He’s a smart coach, hard worker… he studies the game and is going to find what’s best for his current team to be successful and they’ve done a great job with that,” Ganot added. “This is a big team… there’s a reason they’ve won five in a row.” 

With that size, the Sharks enter SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center in search of the program’s second-ever win over the ‘Bows. In order for the Rainbow Warriors to continue their winning ways, here are a few keys for UH to earn the team’s seventh win in eight games to start the year. 

1. Attack HPU’s guards early. 

HPU’s Dominique “Diggy” Winbush and Melo Sanchez are a pair of talented offensive players each tasked with creating a heavy dose of the off-the-dribble offense for the Sharks while a true scorer off the bounce from the bench unit hasn’t appeared yet. While Nakanishi employs a nine-man rotation in most games, Sanchez leads the team by playing over 36 minutes per contest. Winbush follows behind closely with 28 minutes of action per night, leaving 16 minutes unaccounted for per game for the bench to fill in the blanks. 

Hawai’i has the guards to make life difficult for the starting backcourt of the Sharks on the defensive end of the court with all-Big West preseason selection JoVon McClanahan and sharp-shooting lefty Noel Coleman lead the charge with a desire to get downhill in transition. Should the two guards, combined with the efforts of reserves Juan Munoz and Tom Beattie, continue a relentless desire to get to the rim against any defender, it could be a long night of looking for answers through foul trouble for the visitors from Division II. 

2. Make the extra pass, especially if there’s any doubt in the paint. 

While UH is able to boast a size advantage for the most part, HPU’s 7-foot-4 center Matthew Van Komen will enter the matchup as the tallest player on either roster. The former St. Mary’s center puts the length to work as well, averaging three blocks per game, good for top-five nationally in Division 2 men’s basketball. 

It feels like Van Komen has more blocks than that as well due to his ability to impact and alter shots without even touching them. While Hawai’i has finished well overall this season, Van Komen will be the tallest player UH has faced off against this season by three inches. If McClanahan and company can get a step and force help from HPU, an extra pass or two will not only result in an open look but can limit Van Komen’s chances to alter the game. 

(Additionally, there’s no reason for Hawai’i not to look for extra three-point opportunities while employing one of the better, more consistently accurate from range teams in recent program memory. Let them fly and continue being a modern offense to compliment the defense.)

3. Win the bench minutes handily. 

Both teams enjoy quality defense when going to their bench units, but Hawai’i’s offensive potential is tantalizing. Munoz showed out against Central Arkansas with a season-high 19 points on 5/5 shooting from 3-point territory in the first half while dropping three dimes for good measure. Sophomore center Mor Seck has continued to rapidly develop on both ends of the floor while adding strength to his 7-foot-1 frame. True freshman Tom Beattie snatched a rotation spot early in the preseason and hasn’t looked back since, only upping his playing time as the season progresses. The list goes on. 

HPU has not been so lucky, struggling to get much offensive production out of the bench. Just once this season has a Sharks’ reserve had 10 or more points in Ethan Taafe, coming in the opening game of the year, a loss at Alaska Anchorage. If the ‘Bows can win the bench minutes by continuing the Sharks’ offensive struggles and building on successes of their own, Hawai’i will move to 7-1 with a date against Nevada on December 17 as the next test.