Pepper, UC Davis holds off furious Hawai’i comeback attempt to advance to Big West championship

Pepper, UC Davis holds off furious Hawai’i comeback attempt to advance to Big West championship

Pepper, UC Davis holds off furious Hawai’i comeback attempt to advance to Big West championship

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 15, 2024

Too little, too late. 

After falling down by as much as 17 in the 2nd half, fifth-seeded Hawai’i gave second-seeded UC Davis a scare in the final minutes as the ‘Bows had a shot to take the lead with five seconds to play that bounced off back iron, allowing the Aggies to escape to Saturday’s Big West Tournament championship against Long Beach State. 

Hawai’i, coming off a 75-68 victory over #7 CSUN on Thursday, started slowly as UC Davis raced out to an 11-2 lead out of the gates behind the hot shooting of the three-guard lineup of Kane Milling, Ty Johnson and Big West Player of the Year winner Elijah Pepper. The Aggies continued to flex the offensive fire power by hitting nine of the first 12 attempts from the field en route to a 20-6 lead after eight minutes of action. 

The ‘Bows shook off the slow start to stick around, cutting the UC Davis lead to three with a 18-7 run over the next four minutes of game action behind a litany of Rainbow Warriors finding their touch from the field as UH drilled a pair of triples and attacked the rim far better than early on. 

Back-to-back Munoz 3-pointers brought Hawai’i within two and the 8th-year guard whipped a pass to Bernardo de Silva for a two-handed dunk to end the opening half keeping UH down a pair, 31-29. 

The 2nd half began similar to the first for Hawai’i, watching another sizzling UC Davis offensive spurt with a 17-2 run out of the break leading to a game-high 17-point lead for the Aggies after Pablo Tamba finished an alley-oop lob from Elijah Pepper with 13:57 left to play. 

Following a 30-second timeout from head coach Eran Ganot, Hawai’i’s offense settled once again as Ryan Rapp drained a straight away triple for the ‘Bows first field goal of the 2nd half. Justin McKoy scored the next four points before Munoz drilled another 3-pointer for Hawai’i, but UH continued struggling getting stops against UC Davis as the margin remained 17 through the 10:47 mark of the 2nd half. 

A 7-0 Hawai’i run in a blink of an eye brought the ‘Bows back within ten after Akira Jacobs drilled his 2nd 3-pointer of the evening before making his third and fourth foul shots of the season to make it 58-48 UC Davis with 8:31 left to play. While the deficit remained around double-digits until the three-minute mark for Hawai’i, the ‘Bows had their swagger back for one last push for an upset in the semifinals. 

Six consecutive makes from the free throw line for UH brought Hawai’i within four, 66-62, with 1:17 left in regulation before Pepper lost the ball off his leg to give the ‘Bows a chance to cut it to a one-possession game with more than a minute left. 

Ty Johnson came up with a clutch strip on McKoy’s drive on the next possession, keeping the two-possession lead for UC Davis while the Aggies drained every second off of the clock possible. After Hawai’i forced a shot clock violation, McClanahan powered through contact for an and-one at the rim that brought UH within one, 66-65, with 27 seconds to play. 

Without any timeouts, the Rainbow Warriors came up with a steal at midcourt as Noel Coleman jumped a passing lane to provide the go-ahead chance to Hawai’i but McClanhan’s stepback jumper from the left elbow bounced off back rim and Justin McKoy was called for a loose-ball foul as the ‘Bows fell in the semifinals, 68-65. 

UC Davis All-Big West 1st team selection and conference Player of the Year Elijah Pepper willed the Aggies to victory down the stretch, pouring in a game-high 25 points on 10-of-23 shooting with 17 points coming in the final 20 minutes. Kane Milling followed behind with 14 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of action while Ty Johnson added 12 points and five dimes in the victory for UC Davis. 

Hawai’i was led by Bernardo de Silva’s 14 points in 34 minutes, making 5-of-6 FG attempts and going 4-for-6 at the charity stripe in the loss. Juan Munoz and Justin McKoy were the other two Rainbow Warriors in double figures, finishing with 11 and 10 points respectively. 

JoVon McClanahan added nine points off the bench for Hawai’i, going 7-for-7 at the free throw line and nearly adding one final buzzer-beating memory to his UH ledger as his jumper went awry for the ‘Bows at the end.  

Freshman Akira Jacobs matched a season-high with eight points and a pair of 3-pointers while Tom Beattie provided physical defense across 31 minutes and chipped in a bucket in the ‘Bows loss. 

Hawai’i now discusses postseason options for a large graduating class of six seniors, considering joining the College Basketball Invitational tournament, a single-elimination tournament featuring 16 teams that were not selected to the NCAA Tournament or NIT. Teams participating in the CBI pay a $27,500 entry fee for playing in the tournament. 

Hawai’i takes rubber match over CSUN, moves into Big West semifinals

Hawai’i takes rubber match over CSUN, moves into Big West semifinals

Hawai’i guard Noel Coleman attacks the rim during a home win over UC Bakersfield. The senior was one of four ‘Bows that scored in double figures in the Rainbow Warriors’ Big West Tournament quarterfinal win over CSUN on March 14. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i takes rubber match over CSUN, moves into Big West semifinals

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 14, 2024

On to the next one. 

For the second time in three seasons, third-seeded Hawai’i (20-13, 11-9 Big West) advanced into the Big West Tournament semifinals after taking down tenacious seventh-seed CSUN on Thursday night in the Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, Nev., 75-68, for the ‘Bows fourth straight win. 

The Matadors (19-15, 9-11 Big West), who entered the day coming off a late-night overtime victory over Ajay Mitchell and UC Santa Barbara for the program’s first win in the conference tournament in a decade, looked like the team that received the 1st-round bye into the tournament as they scored four of the first five baskets of the game to jump out to an 8-2 lead just five minutes into action. Hawai’i’s offense struggled out the gates, needing to shake off some rust while shooting just 1-for-8 from the floor and committing a pair of turnovers. 

Bernardo de Silva split a pair of free throws before Noel Coleman finally ended the FG drought for the ‘Bows, drilling a 3-pointer from the right side to double UH’s scoring output from the first six minutes with one flick of his left wrist. 

Coleman’s bucket helped see the offense find friction for Hawai’i as Tom Beattie pushed down the floor quickly after for a right-handed layup before Justin McKoy got on the board for the first time in the Big West Tournament twenty seconds later to pull UH within a possession, trailing CSUN 12-10. 

“Early on in the year when we were struggling, teams went on runs and we didn’t respond and stop the bleeding early enough … [At this point of the season] we know to cut the bleeding, go on our own run and respond and I thought we’ve been doing a great job of that as of late and I thought we did it today,” McKoy said, discussing the team’s bounce back from a rough shooting start. 

McKoy, who earned his first career All-Conference team selection earlier this week when he was named 2nd-team All-Big West, strung together five more points in a row for the ‘Bows with a trip to the line and his first triple of the evening before sophomore forward Harry Rouhliadeff made it a new ball game with 8:38 left in the opening half, tying it at 20 with five points. 

Senior guard JoVon McClanahan delivered the ‘Bows first lead since the second possession of the game with his first basket of the night, dancing his way to the cup with 6:20 remaining before halftime. The two sides traded the lead back and forth over the next few minutes before Rouhliadeff hit a pair of free throws and Coleman sunk a close-range bucket to give Hawai’i multi-possession lead for the first time all evening. 

Trouble hit when Rouhliadeff left the game at the 2:23 mark after taking a nasty fall and appearing to hit his head on the ground. The sophomore had chipped in seven points and five rebounds while collecting an emphatic block on defense off the bench before being helped off the floor following the fall. He did not return to the game. 

“I thought that was kind of a microcosm of the year,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said after the game. “We dealt with adversity all year, we dealt with adversity in the game. Harry had a great first half and went out and he stepped up, [then] we had to step up for him.” 

Freshman forward Akira Jacobs checked in to replace Rouhliadeff for the final two minutes of the half, drilling one from long-distance to push Hawai’i into the locker rooms leading by six, 36-30. 

While the ‘Bows got plenty of help from the youth over the opening 20 minutes, it was the program’s seniors that stepped up to help Hawai’i maintain control throughout the 2nd half. 

Coleman, de Silva and McKoy scored Hawai’i’s first 17 points out of the break, helping the ‘Bows push the lead into double digits before the Matadors were able to string together an 8-0 run to make UH’s lead just 53-51 with under 12 minutes left in regulation. 

Akira Jacobs ended the Hawai’i scoring drought with an easy finish inside off a nice feed from Ryan Rapp to put UH back up four before de Silva sandwiched a Coleman 3-pointer with a couple of layups and Beattie scampered out for a fast-break layup to give the ‘Bows an 8-point lead once again with 5:25 remaining. 

CSUN junior Keonte George would not let the Matadors fade easily, dashing down the floor for back-to-back transition buckets to pull CSUN within a possession a minute and a half after the Rainbow Warriors’ run. Dionte Bostick put one last scare in Hawai’i fans by bringing CSUN within two, 68-66, with 2:35 left but that was the closest that the seventh-seeded Matadors would get the rest of the night. 

Hawai’i iced the game from the line as Coleman, McKoy and de Silva all made foul shots down the stretch to deliver the Rainbow Warriors to victory, 75-68. 

All-Big West 1st-Team selection De’Sean Allen-Eikens led all scorers on the night, pouring in 22 points and nine rebounds, going 9-of-19 from the field in 39 minutes for CSUN. Guard Dionte Bostick added 18 points but went 0-for-4 from 3-point range as the Matadors struggled from distance all night, going 3-of-17 from behind the arc in the loss. 

Hawai’i’s Justin McKoy shook off a poor shooting night to lead the ‘Bows in scoring, dropping 16 points while drilling three triples as four different Rainbow Warriors finished the game in double-figures for points. Bernardo de Silva, who was an All-Big West honorable mention this year, followed closely behind with 14 points and nine boards in the win for the ‘Bows. The 5th-year senior also passed the career 1,000-point threshold in the 2nd half, becoming the second Rainbow Warrior to achieve the feat this year (Coleman). 

“Bernardo has been great all year … [playing with] four fouls and he was able to stay in the game and just defend and I think that defense was huge for us, especially in the paint,” McKoy said of his Brazilian forward’s savvy play down the stretch. 

Noel Coleman and Juan Munoz finished with 12 points and 11 points respectively, hitting a combined five 3-pointers to out-shoot CSUN from long range by themselves. 

Hawai’i advances to Friday’s Big West Tournament semifinals and a date with #2 UC Davis, another program that the ‘Bows split the regular season series with. The Aggies pose a tough challenge, boasting Big West Player of the Year Elijah Pepper alongside a talented supporting cast. UH head coach Eran Ganot was unable to give an update on the status of forward Harry Rouhliadeff’s availability for Friday following the game. 

“We were smart about [his injury] and we’ll get more information. I don’t have any information now, but we’ll get it and provide it and kind of go from there,” Ganot shared. “It was good to be able to get it done without him and step up for him while we figure out his situation.” 

Hawai’i dominated UC Davis back on February 10, 87-70, part of the stark late-season turnaround by the ‘Bows that saw UH go 9-3 over the final 12 games of the regular season. One of those three losses did come when Hawai’i visited UC Davis two and a half weeks later and fell, 75-63. 

“I just think those [earlier] experiences – losing close games early, winning close games late, losing overtime games and then winning overtime games late,” Ganot said postgame. “Sometimes you got to go through it and sometimes you have got to grow from pain, but this group stayed together through all of that.” 

Hawai’i grabs home revenge, holds off Long Beach State for important Big West win

Hawai’i grabs home revenge, holds off Long Beach State for important Big West win

Hawai’i forward Justin McKoy puts up a shot during a home game. The graduate transfer poured in a career-high 26 points in UH’s Feb. 24 win over LBSU, 73-65. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

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. 

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. 

Hawai’i’s Big West free-fall continues after loss to Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara

Hawai’i’s Big West free-fall continues after loss to Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara

UCSB guard Ajay Mitchell misses a free throw during the Gauchos’ 78-61 win over Hawai’i.

Hawai’i’s Big West free-fall continues after loss to Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 25, 2024

HONOLULU — Mor injury, more problems. 

After announcing earlier in the day that 7-foot-1 sophomore center Mor Seck would miss the remainder of the 2023-24 season after suffering an ACL injury to his left knee in practice Tuesday, the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (10-10, 2-6 Big West) fell once again Thursday night at home as defending-conference champion UC Santa Barbara (12-7, 5-4 Big West) won for the fourth straight time against UH, 78-61, inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. 

Hawai’i opened the evening strong with another new starting lineup, this time the three-guard lineup that found success in the second half of the UC San Diego loss last Saturday, grabbing a five-point advantage to the delight of fans. 

It was the last smile for a while. 

Hawai’i’s offense, one that has been inconsistent for much of the year, went lifeless for the next nine-plus minutes of action as the Gauchos rattled off an incredible 26-0 run to take full control, 28-7, with 7:40 left in the first half. JoVon McClanahan would snap the scoreless streak for Hawai’i with a late-shot clock pull-up on the baseline as the ‘Bows rattled off ten points over the next three minutes to keep the game within 20 with four minutes remaining before half, 36-17. 

The Rainbow Warriors closed the half strong offensively, making seven of their final eight attempts but continuing to see struggles stacking defensive stops as Hawai’i entered the locker room trailing, 43-27. 

Defending Big West Player of the Year Ajay Mitchell showed off his NBA-pedigree all evening, continuing the performance into the beginning of the second half with the first six points out of the locker rooms before fellow Belgian Noel Coleman knocked home a triple to get Hawai’i started once again. 

The team stabilized from there, trading baskets with USCB to keep the margin around 18-20 as time wound down in the ‘Bows sixth loss in eight tries in Big West play, eventually falling 78-61. 

UCSB’s Mitchell dropped home 25 points and added six assists as he imposed his will on the Hawai’i defense all night. Fellow backcourt mainstay Josh Pierre-Louis added a double-double, posting 10 rebounds to go along with his 14 points while Yohan Traore dominated inside en route to 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting. The Gauchos dominated inside all game long, outscoring UH in the painted area, 54-30, while winning the rebounding battle, 33-21, to help spotlight the loss of Seck for Hawai’i.

UH was led by Noel Coleman’s 19 points as one of three starters to finish in double figures, along with forward Bernardo de Silva’s 13 points and Juan Munoz’s dozen. The other seven Rainbow Warriors that saw time combined for 17 total points on 6-of-24 shooting as the offense struggled through multiple extended droughts throughout the night. 

Hawai’i will host Cal Poly on Saturday, January 27 inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center with tip-off scheduled for 7:00 p.m. HT as they face an increasingly-steeper hill to climb out of the cellar.  

“Together” Hawai’i snaps 4-game home losing streak with tough win over UC Riverside

“Together” Hawai’i snaps 4-game home losing streak with tough win over UC Riverside

“Together” Hawai’i snaps 4-game home losing streak with tough win over UC Riverside

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 13, 2024

HONOLULU – Finally. 

After dropping their last four home contests and entering Saturday night on a bit of a slide, the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team (10-7, 2-3 Big West) used a gutsy second half defensive effort and JoVon McClanahan’s 14 points to down UC Riverside (7-11, 2-3 Big West) inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center for just the ‘Bows second win in the last seven meetings between the programs. 

Hawai’i would get off to a fast start behind six early points from McClanahan, taking an 8-2 lead not even three minutes into action. UH’s advantage trickled on for the game’s first eight minutes until UCR’s Ben Griscti drilled a three-pointer to give the Highlanders their first lead of the night, 13-12, with 12:05 left in the first half. 

UH took the lead right back on the next possession as Justin McKoy got a hook shot to go plus a foul to send the game to the second media timeout of the first 20 minutes. Following the stop in the action, Juan Munoz would get in on the fun for Hawai’i with his first three-point field goal of the evening making it 18-15 in favor of the ‘Bows. 

UC Riverside would fight back in front with four consecutive points, but UH responded with a 7-0 run of their own behind a Munoz layup, Mor Seck thundering dunk and true freshman Akira Jacobs’ first triple of the night to jump ahead with 7:11 left in the half, 25-19. The Rainbow Warriors’ lead would grow as large as eight before a nightmare end to the half led to a Highlanders’ run to close the gap to one as the teams entered the locker rooms for halftime. 

After the break, the teams would continue the end-of-half trend of trading metaphorical blows with each other, trading the lead five times before the under-12-minutes media timeout when the Highlanders would hold a slim 48-44 lead. 

Eran Ganot’s squad turned up the heat on the defensive end from there. 

Following the timeout, Hawai’i started to chip away at the lead from the charity stripe with three makes in four attempts between Noel Coleman and Tom Beattie and six defensive stops in seven possessions. The ‘Bows would re-take the lead with 5:39 left in regulation behind back-to-back buckets from Coleman and Bernardo de Silva, 51-50, sending the 3,519 fans inside the Stan Sheriff Center into a frenzy.

That’s when the straightjackets came out. 

Hawai’i held UC Riverside without a field goal make from the 9:08 mark of the second half until there were 43 seconds remaining as McClanahan was busy icing the game from the free throw line and McKoy put the cherry on top with two makes of his own at the charity stripe to help snap a four-game home skid, 63-56. 

UC Riverside was led by Barrington Hargress and Nate Pickens, who had 18 and 10 points apiece in the loss. UH held usual standout scorer Isaiah Moses down for the most part as the guard finished the night 1-for-8 from the field and a total of four points.  

Hawai’i was led by McClanahan’s 14 points, including a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line as he battled being poked in the eye late to close out the win for the ‘Bows. Noel Coleman finished with 10 points in the victory for UH, snagging eight rebounds along the way to lead the team. 

The Rainbow Warriors will now hit the road once again, taking on rival Long Beach State on Thursday, January 18 in another increasingly important road trip in an ever-so-closing-tighter Big West standings.