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. 

Hawai’i opens Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic title defense with win over Portland

Hawai’i opens Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic title defense with win over Portland

Hawaii opens Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic title defense with win over Portland

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED DEC 21, 2023

HONOLULU — Confident Matthue Cotton, double-double machine Bernardo de Silva and a quarterfinal victory for the ‘Bows. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors men’s basketball team (8-2) started slow and ended fast Thursday night, taking down the University of Portland Pilots (6-7), 69-56, to open the 2023 Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic slate for the home team. Cotton finished with a team-high 15 points, 13 coming in the second half, as de Silva posted his third double-double in the last four games to help hold of a furious Portland comeback try late. 

The Pilots put up the game’s first points with a layup inside before Justin McKoy answered back immediately, drilling a three-pointer from the right wing to give the ‘Bows their first lead of the night, 3-2. UH captain Bernardo de Silva followed it up with a layup to make it 5-2 before a 7-0 Portland run pushed the visitors out of the WCC ahead, 9-5.  

A Noel Coleman triple following under-12 media timeout ended a near-three minute UH scoring drought and cut the deficit to one. Hawai’i tied the game at 13 just a minute and a half later when defending DMC MVP JoVon McClanahan got on the score sheet with a left-wing three and took a 16-14 lead two possessions later when McKoy hit from the same spot behind the arc. UH guard Juan Munoz then hit the squad’s third consecutive make from long range to make it 19-16 before picking up an assist with a nice floating post feed to de Silva, extending the Hawai’i lead to five. 

“I thought [Portland] did a great job early, we had to weather a lot… we didn’t shoot it well early,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said after the game. “We are a great shooting team and so I like that we were still aggressive. It’s different when you take bad ones. We had some good looks early, but [the guys] stuck with it.” 

The back-and-forth would continue until Mor Seck electrified the SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center crowd with a monster block with 2:51 left in the 1st half and Hawai’i leading 25-22. The momentum from the swat rolled into a 30-22 Hawai’i advantage, accented by a powerful Cotton tomahawk jam that got the crowd buzzing before Portland’s Bol Dengdit hit a three-pointer from the top of the key to quiet it down once again.  

Hawai’i used back-to-back Noel Coleman buckets, including a nifty layup in traffic with 12 seconds left in the half, to secure a seven-point advantage going into halftime. 

Eran Ganot’s team extended the lead to 12 quickly after the break with five fast points, fueled by a McClanahan three and Cotton putback to force a Portland timeout. McClanahan would hit a baseline jumper to make it a 14-point game before the Pilots finally scored for the first time in the second half. 

Hawai’i continued the solid second-half start with infectious ball movement, pushing the lead up to 18 after a beautiful transition break with McClanahan, Coleman, Cotton and de Silva all getting touches with only two combined dribbles taken to go the length of the floor for the score. 

Following a 30-second Pilots’ timeout, Portland began to cut into the UH lead, bringing it down to 11 with just over 10 minutes remaining. The WCC-representatives cut it to a seven-point deficit with 5:06 left in regulation and forced a Hawai’i timeout, continuing to fight hard while looking for the program’s first win in the history of the Diamond Head Classic (Portland finished eighth in 2019, going 0-3 in the event in the only other appearance in the DHC for the Pilots). 

Hawai’i was provided some breathing room after the timeout with back-to-back threes from Cotton — one from each of the right and left corners — being coupled with a tough de Silva post finish, extending the lead back to 15 with just under 3 minutes left to play. 

“Always being aggressive, ready to shoot and my teammates were able to find me,” Cotton said were the reasons for his hot second half after the game. “Once I see the ball go through the rim, confidence-wise, it’s a good feeling.” 

The ‘Bows closed the game out feeling good, going on a 12-6 run to take the quarterfinal matchup over Portland, 69-56, and calmly move into Friday’s semifinal round against Georgia Tech. The Yellowjackets, hailing out of the ACC, defeated UMass in a thrilling 69-66 comeback victory earlier on Thursday and will face off against UH for the first time since 2019 in the DHC (Georgia Tech was a 70-53 winner over Hawai’i in the tournament’s third-place game). 

Portland’s Vukasin Masic finished with a game-best 18 points to lead the way for the Pilots, who will take on UMass in the consolation bracket on Friday. The guard drilled all three of his attempts from range. 

UH’s McClanahan handed out a season-high seven dimes while committing zero (0) turnovers in the win for Hawai’i, the fourth consecutive Diamond Head Classic victory for the program after winning the event last year for the first time ever. Noel Coleman finished in double figures for the ninth time in ten games this season with 14 points, knocking down a pair from long distance and going 6-for-11 overall from the floor. 

The ‘Bows take on Georgia Tech on Friday, December 22 at 6:00 p.m. HT/11:00 p.m. ET with a spot in the tournament’s title game on Christmas Eve on the line.