UPDATED: Spirited effort not quite enough for Warriors
The Hawai’i basketball team opened up some spirit and effort on Christmas morning, but it could not find the gift of victory.
Mississippi closed the game with an 18-3 run in the final 3 minutes, 40 seconds, en route to an 81-66 victory over the Warriors in the consolation title game of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
Hawai’i finished in sixth place in the three-day tournament at 1-2, and dropped to 6-5 overall. Ole Miss captured fifth place and improved to 10-2 overall.
The game was closer – and more exciting – than the final score indicated. The Warriors rallied from a 16-point deficit in the first half, and the game featured 11 ties and 13 lead changes.
“We got down early and could have folded,” Hawai’i head coach Gib Arnold said. “Saw some toughness and we came back to where we were even going up one at halftime. I loved it. Loved that. Loved how we battled.
“Obviously I’m not pleased with the outcome. I thought the last three-and-a-half minutes, we made some mistakes. We turned the ball over which led to some easy baskets and we hadn’t given up easy baskets all game … it’s not the outcome that we wanted but there were too many good things to just drop our heads and get down. We played well.”
Senior center Vander Joaquim had one of the best games of his Hawai’i career with 29 points and 15 rebounds. He shot 11 of 21 from the field and 7 of 9 from the free throw line.
“My teammates did a good job finding me,” Joaquim said. “They made some good passes and I just finished plays. I don’t think I played well because I missed a lot of easy shots, We should have finished those last few minutes of the game.”
Isaac Fotu added 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting; Christian Standhardinger finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.
The Warriors struggled early in the game against Mississippi’s full-court pressure defense, and fell behind 27-11. However, the Warriors closed the half with a 19-2 surge that had the early-afternoon crowd in the Stan Sheriff Center on its feet.
Hawai’i started the game with three “bigs” in 6-10 Joaquim, 6-8 Standhardinger and 6-8 Fotu alongside freshman guards Manroop Clair and Brandon Jawato.
Senior point guard Jace Tavita and junior guard Brandon Spearman came in to spark the first half rally. Arnold played two point guards – primarily Clair and Tavita – together for most of the game to combat Mississippi’s pressure defense.
“It was good to have Roop out there so we had two ball handlers breaking that,” Tavita said. “I think they got up on us because we were like a deer in headlights with their press. But once we kind of figured it out, we were able to attack it and get some easy buckets off of it.”
Tavita finished with a team-high eight assists and also grabbed four rebounds. Spearman contributed eight points and four rebounds.
Clair, making his second consecutive start after playing a limited reserve role earlier in the season, finished with six points and five rebounds in 36 minutes. He also played a key role on defense, chasing Mississippi shooting guard Marshall Henderson for most of the game.
Henderson hit four 3-pointers in the first 12 minutes of the game, prompting the Warriors to switch to a “box-and-one” defense, with Clair chasing Henderson and the other four Hawai’i players in a zone. Henderson’s only points in the game’s final 28 minutes came on four free throws in the closing seconds, when the outcome was decided. Arnold said the team did not practice that defense prior to the game.
“I think he can help us in the Big West and we needed to get him ready quickly,” Arnold said of Clair.
The Warriors took a 30-29 lead at halftime, and the second half went back and forth for the next 16 minutes. It was tied at 63 with less than four minutes remaining when Mississippi’s final rally started. The Rebels went on a 10-0 surge to take a 73-63 lead with 1:25 remaining, and the Warriors never got closer than eight after that.
Of Mississippi’s five baskets during that crucial surge, three were layups and two were dunks.
“We gotta finish,” Arnold said. “That was the negative, obviously. We didn’t finish down the end. We didn’t execute, didn’t hit shots and turned the ball over. But up until then, I thought we played a really good game.”
The Warriors out-rebounded the Rebels, 41-32. However, Hawai’i’s 15 turnovers were recycled into 26 points for Mississippi. The Warriors also shot just 39.2 percent from the field, including just 12.5 percent (2 for 16) from 3-point range.
Hawai’i will not have much time to recover from the Diamond Head Classic. The Warriors will open Big West Conference action on Saturday, when they host Cal State Northridge at the Stan Sheriff Center.
(Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores)
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NO. 3 ARIZONA WINS TOURNAMENT
Mark Lyons hit two free throws with 13.1 seconds remaining to lift No. 3 Arizona to a thrilling 68-67 victory over No. 17 San Diego State in the championship game of the tournament.
The Aztecs had the final possession, but Chase Tapley’s driving layup attempt was blocked by Arizona’s Nick Johnson.
Arizona took a 29-27 lead at halftime, but the Aztecs came out of the locker room and went on a 14-4 run to start the second half and take a 41-33 lead. The Wildcats eventually caught the Aztecs, and it stayed close in the final minutes.
Solomon Hill led Arizona with 21 points, and Kevin Parrom added 17. Tapley scored 19 for San Diego State.
Championship: No. 3 Arizona 68, No. 17 San Diego State 67
Third Place: Indiana State 57, Miami 55
Fifth Place: Mississippi 81, Hawai’i 66
Seventh Place: San Francisco 67, East Tennessee State 49
Murphy Holloway (Mississippi)
Jake Odum (Indiana State)
Chase Tapley (San Diego State)
Mark Lyons (Arizona)
MVP: Solomon Hill (Arizona)