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.  

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. 

Hawai’i Pacific downs Westmont late to win PacWest opener, 78-74

Hawai’i Pacific downs Westmont late to win PacWest opener, 78-74

Hawai’i Pacific downs Westmont late to win PacWest opener, 78-74 

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 2, 2023

HONOLULU — The Hawai’i Pacific University Sharks (5-3, 1-0 PacWest) took down the Westmont College Warriors (4-3, 1-1 PacWest), 78-74, on Saturday afternoon at the Shark Tank, using Diggy Winbush’s game-high 27 points to down the former NAIA-turned-Division 2 program. 

The afternoon started with a bang when Warriors’ forward Jalen Townsell hammered home a poster dunk on the break for the game’s first points. The teams traded baskets in a fast-paced start to the contest, tied at nine after five minutes of play as HPU’s Diggy Winbush and Matthew Van Komen paced the Sharks. 

A Winbush 3-pointer following the first timeout of the day gave HPU their first lead of the afternoon, going up 12-11 with 14:28 left in the opening half of play. Westmont would respond in turn with a Drew Ramirez triple on the next possession, taking back the momentum with a 13-4 run to jump ahead by eight, 24-16, and force a Sharks’ timeout. 

Following the break, HPU would heat up from long distance, knocking down three straight from deep in 90 seconds to go back in front by one. The Sharks continued the run by establishing Van Komen deep in the post and Josh Niusulu finding the Midas touch from 3-point territory to make it a six-point advantage with 3:11 left in the 1st half. 

The HPU lead would grow to double-digits just before halftime as Charlie Weber, an ETSU transfer, made his debut for the Sharks and got his first basket in the sharkskin-grey uniforms for the home squad. Westmont leading scorer Anthony McIntyre drilled a three-pointer right before the halftime break to cut it to a seven-point deficit for the visitors going into the locker room. 

Westmont started the second 20-minute frame similar to the first, quickly scoring seven points to cut it down to a two-point advantage for the host Sharks just 95 seconds out of the halftime break. The Warriors continued their march, taking a 45-44 lead with 15:40 remaining in regulation following an Amir Davis coast-to-coast rebound and layup to force HPU head coach Jesse Nakanishi to call timeout.  

After the stoppage, Westmont’s Adrian McIntyre scored seven straight points from for the Warriors, increasing the visitors’ lead to four with 13 minutes left to play. They would continue the hot start out of the half, pushing the lead to as much as six before the tides turned in favor of the Sharks with under 10 minutes in regulation. 

Six straight HPU free throws helped the hosts re-take the lead with 9:19 left, but McIntyre responded with three makes from the charity stripe of his own – one coming on an and-one – to keep the Westmont advantage at four. A pair of layups by Winbush and Maj Dusanic kept the Sharks within a score as the teams hit the under-eight-minute media timeout with Westmont leading, 63-61. 

Winbush cashed in on a free throw following the break in the action to cut it to a one-point deficit for HPU and continued to backpack the Sharks’ offense back into the lead, drilling a left-wing triple with 4:05 left to play to give Hawai’i Pacific back the lead, 69-67. The Sharks would not trail again. 

HPU pushed the lead up to seven points with 2:43 remaining after Melo Sanchez drilled a left-wing three. Sanchez finished the night with just seven points on eight total shots from the floor as the Warriors worked to limit opportunities for the Sharks’ star. 

Westmont wouldn’t go quietly, quickly putting up seven points to tie it after Townsell hit a desperation three as the shot clock expired to tie the game at 74 with 15 seconds left in regulation. The Warriors would bump into Winbush following the inbound, sending the guard to the line for his 26th and 27th points of the day and reclaiming the lead for HPU. 

McIntyre tried but couldn’t get a jumper to go on the following possession, seeing the ball knocked out of bounds but remain with Westmont after the miss. On the ensuing inbounds, HPU’s ball denial forced the Warriors (who were out of timeouts) to try and throw the ball off of 7-foot-4 Matthew Van Komen with 3.2 seconds remaining but the carom from Van Komen’s leg redirected the ball into the body of the Westmont inbounded for a turnover. Josh Niusulu was fouled afterwards on inbounds and knocked down a couple free throws to ice the win for Hawai’i Pacific and put the game out of reach, 78-74, in the team’s PacWest opener. 

Westmont, who shot 46% from the floor in the loss, was led by Adrian McIntyre’s 24 points as the guard was a +1 in 36 minutes of action for the Warriors. Jalen Townsell finished with 14 points, a clutch three and a poster dunk for the visitors, who split the first two of three games in Hawai’i, as the Warriors head over to Hilo to take on the Vulcans to close out the Hawai’i trip. 

HPU was led by Winbush’s season-best 27 points (12/15 FT) as the guard continued his fantastic start to the season in his new home. Winbush drew eight fouls throughout the contest, making life difficult on the multitude of defenders that Westmont sent at him. Josh Niusulu finished with 13 points, drilling three of five attempts from long range to help power the Sharks to victory.  

Hawai’i Pacific University basketball is back in action on Monday, December 4 in the Shark Tank as they host Fresno Pacific University, trying to extend their win streak to five straight. The game will be broadcast on Hawai’i Sports Radio Network, along with the women’s basketball game prior, on 95.1 FM, AM 760, and streaming on hawaiisportsradio.com, with both games available on demand where most podcasts are found.