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.