SPOKANE, Wash. — In this part of the Great Northwest and NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, cold fronts can come quickly and without warning, and it can be a game-changer.
The University of Hawai’i learned that the hard way Sunday afternoon, as a seven-minute spell of cold shooting midway through the second half opened the door for Maryland to zoom past the Rainbow Warriors, 73-60, and bring an end to UH’s memorable and record-setting season.
A capacity crowd of 11,296 at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena watched Melo Trimble score a game-high 24 points and grab eight rebounds and Diamond Stone and Rasheed Sulaimon each add 14 points as the Terrapins — seeded No. 5 in the South Region — improved to 27-8 and advance to Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup against top-seeded Kansas in Louisville, Ky.
Mike Thomas scored 19 points and grabbed 11 boards, Stefan Jankovic added 14 points and eight rebounds and Quincy Smith finished with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists to lead the Rainbow Warriors, whose season ends at a school all-time best mark of 28-6. Hawai’i was the No.13 seed in the South Region, and playing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the fist time in program history.
“Indicative, we fought to the end,” said Eran Ganot, UH’s first-year coach. “This group’s got a lot of fight, just very proud of them for what they have done. It’s hard, I don’t get to coach them again. But it’s a great group to coach — the adversity over the course of the last couple years …”
The final adversity — a stalwart Maryland defense and a seven-minute second-half stretch without a field goal — proved too much to overcome.
Hawai’i led for most of the first half and was up, 41-39, after Smith’s layup with 11:21 remaining in the game, but that would be the Rainbow Warriors’ last field goal for the next 7 minutes, 29 seconds. Maryland took advantage of the drought to run off 14 straight points during one run, building a commanding 53-41 lead after Robert Carter’s three-point play with 8:26 left.
The Terrapins extended it to 57-43 on Trimble’s two free throws with 5:56 remaining, and UH could not get closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
“I’ll give credit to Maryland’s defense,” Jankovic said. “It was tough, but we (also) didn’t make shots that we were supposed to make. We missed a lot of layups, a lot of easy putbacks, we didn’t make shots. They played great defense. Again, I give credit to them, but we missed a lot of layups and a lot of shots that we usually make.”
Ganot said even more costly than the misses were the lack of offensive rebounds and an often step-too-slow transition defense.
“I thought we had some good looks in that stretch that didn’t go down, but I thought the biggest key in that stretch was giving them some runs out in transition,” Ganot said. “That one stretch really hurt us. It was a combination of — and I thought you can look, there’s some open shots that we had at the rim, some open shots, but we compounded the problem by not getting back (on defense) and maybe hanging around for loose balls that weren’t there. It was never a lack of effort, and there’s never been a lack of effort with this group … But in the critical moments at this stage, at this level, you get exposed for some lapses.
“And just like we capitalize on some lapses, good teams capitalize on those, and we had several in that critical stretch.”
In less than two minutes, the Terrapins turned a 41-39 deficit into a 48-41 lead, and Trimble’s 3-pointer at the 9:34 mark broke Maryland’s 0-for-15 drought from beyond the arc. It would be the only 3-pointer that the Terps made the entire game, as they finished 1 for 18.
“I think towards the second half, we started to get steals and that kind of opened things up,” said Sulaimon, a 6-foot-4 senior guard who also had five rebounds and three assists. “We started getting easy layups and easy shots, and Melo finally hit a 3 for us. Once that shot went down, I think that just kind of got everyone loose and gave everyone confidence that if we just continue to play defense, make our free throws and not turn the ball over, we could win the game.”
Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said fatigue — the Rainbow Warriors have played seven tough games in 19 days since leaving Honolulu on March 1 — also may have played a factor. All five Hawai’i starters played 30-plue minutes each for the first time this season.
“Give Hawai’i credit, what a great year they have had,” Turgeon said. “Good players, good guard play, good big guys … (But) I thought they got a bit tired at the end and we just were able to get out and run. … We finally rebounded a little bit better during that stretch when we took the lead. And then what we did this weekend, is we spread the floor and we were able to get to the foul line and we made free throws (28 of 31, 90.3 percent).”
Maryland led 28-27 after a tight, defensive first half in which the Rainbow Warriors led most of the way but again was plagued by early foul trouble, as starting point guard Roderick Bobbitt picked up two fouls in the game’s first 3 minutes, 14 seconds and was sent to the bench to sit for over nine minutes.
Still, UH led, 10-4, after Stefan Jovanovic’s short banker with 12:40 remaining, and 13-6 after Aaron Valdes‘ 3-pointer from the left wing with 11:03 left. The Terrapins then responded with a 12-2 run capped by Trimble’s layup which gave them an 18-15 lead with 6:24 remaining.
“Yeah, it was a blessing for us, obviously,” Turgeon said of Bobbitt’s absence. “I was getting frustrated, because we couldn’t score and he’s over there sitting down, and they’re still beating us 13-6. And then we go ahead, 15-14, they subbed him back in, which I thought was smart on their part. He had one of the best on-ball defenders, Rasheed, guarding him most of the night and I said, ‘Rasheed, if we’re going to have a chance, you got to slow this kid down.’ He lost his rhythm. (But) he’s a heck of a player.”
Bobbitt finished with six points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 30 minutes.
Maryland extended the lead to 24-20 on Jake Layman’s 3-pointer from the right wing with 4:03 left, but the Rainbow Warriors answered with a 7-0 run culminating in Jankovic’s putback with 49 seconds remaining to put Hawai’i up, 27-24.
The Terrapins then closed out the half with Trimble’s layup at the 35-second mark and then two free throws by Trimble with 5.6 ticks left.
Ganot said except for the last sequence in which the Rainbow Warriors took an ill-advised shot early in the clock and then committed a backcourt foul allowing Trimble’s two late free throws, he was pleased with the possession-by-possession, defensive first-half battle.
“Well, you’re always OK when you feel like you are in control, and I thought we were,” Ganot said. “We were from the get-go. And one of the big things against Maryland we talked about was to set the tone early, because they try to put teams away early. And we weathered the storm — more than weathered it — we were up 13-6. … I was pleased with the way we closed the first half, other than that last play. But it was kind of back and forth, I thought we were under control.”
That continued into the second half until, Ganot said, “that one stretch really hurt us.”
Hawai’i ended up shooting a season-low 32.9 percent from the field, while Maryland shot 45.8 percent. The Terps also went 28 for 31 at the free-throw line to Hawai’i’s 10 for 15.
The Warriors out-rebounded the Terps, 42-36, and this was the first time the entire season that Hawai’i lost a game when out-rebounding its opponent. Prior to this game, Hawai’i was 23-0 when winning the rebounding battle.
The loss itself — marking an end to UH’s winningest season and deepest run in the NCAA Tournament — was strongly felt in the post-game locker room.
“It just hurts, to come this close to being the Sweet 16 and have it come to an end,” Valdes said. “Right now it kind of stings.”
But Ganot emphasized the emotions of March Madness are part of what makes it so special.
“This game is awesome,” Ganot said. “There’s so much emotion in it, these guys care. And obviously, you can imagine how the locker room is. But it gives you some great moments, too.”
Those great moments included 500-plus green-white-and-black clad Hawai’i fans cheering loudly and waving 1,000 ti leaves that arrived from the islands at the Spokane Arena just minutes before tipoff.
“Honestly, we have some of the best fans in the nation,” Jankovic said. “They really came out, they supported us. The whole arena felt like we were basically in the Stan Sheriff Center, and I just wish we would have had a better effort for them.”
Said Ganot: “Our fan base is ridiculous, it’s unbelievable. It’s impressive. Especially with how far they travel and how loud and vocal they are and how much love you feel from them.”
The moments also include the most victories in school history, Big West Conference regular season and tournament championships, first NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 years and first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.
“It was a good season, I think people will look at us differently now, after the run we just had,” said Bobbitt, who finished the game with six points and seven assists.”
Ganot added, “Through adversity in past years, it’s pretty dang impressive. They should be celebrated, and that’s what I told our guys, the state of Hawai’i is very proud of them. Because at the end of the day, their job is to influence people in a positive way, and they certainly did that. Kids look up to them in the community over there, and the morale is high because of them, because of the effort they put in, and the performance and manner in which they performed.
“They have galvanized the state, and they represent the university, a great university, a great program … a great state, and these guys make you believe. They are tremendous in the community.
“I think I speak for the rest of Hawai’i when I say this group is special, and they’ll be remembered for a long time. Just unbelievably proud of them.”
Said Jankovic: “It was a special season that we’re gonna cherish forever.”
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(Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)
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