UPDATED: Resilient effort not enough for Warriors to catch No. 5 Tar Heels
Rarely, if ever, could a 15-point defeat be considered a sign of progress. The University of Hawai’i basketball team may have done just that in an 83-68 loss to No. 5-ranked North Carolina on Friday night.
A sellout crowd listed at 10,300 (9,211 turnstile count) at the Stan Sheriff Center watched the inexperienced Warriors squad give a scrappy effort, never allowing the Tar Heels to run away, as some expected would happen. Even as North Carolina dribbled out the final seconds of the game, the crowd provided a standing ovation in appreciation of the effort.
“Heck of an atmosphere and heck of a game,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot said. “I was pleased with our ability to take some hits and come right back. Every time. Even at the end of the game. But at the end of the day, we couldn’t get over the hump.”
Hawai’i, which has five new starters this season, dropped to 2-2. The Tar Heels, who return three starters and three key reserves from last season’s NCAA Championship runner-up team, improved to 4-0. UNC’s previous three victories this season were by an average of 28.7 points per game, and this was the first time this season that the Tar Heels did not score at least 90 points.
Noah Allen scored a game-high 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting, Jack Purchase added 14 points, and Sheriff Drammeh scored 13 for the Warriors.
“We’re competitors – every game we want to win, that’s why we play,” Allen said. “Obviously, they’re a really, really, really good team. They have a lot of tradition and we respect them, but as competitors we wanted to win.”
Hawai’i never fell behind by more than 18 points at any stage of the game, and got within three points of the UNC lead early in the second half.
“Being in that environment against a team like that, they made their runs but we didn’t roll over,” Allen said. “That’s something that we can take going forward.”
The biggest difference came on the boards. North Carolina out-rebounded the Warriors, 46-23. More telling, the Tar Heels grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, which allowed them to outscore the Warriors 28-8 on “second chance” points.
Isaiah Hicks, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, scored 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting for the Tar Heels; Kennedy Meeks, a 6-10, 260-pound senior center, added 13 points and seven rebounds; Tony Bradley, a 6-10 freshman reserve center, contributed 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, including eight offensive boards.
“When you get doubled up on the boards, think about if that was cut in half, the change in the game,” Ganot said. “Again, their size created some issues, but we can’t also lean on that. They’re bigger, they’re stronger, that’s a fact. That’s obvious. That doesn’t do us any good. What we need to focus more on is how can we get it done.”
Drammeh added: “It’s all about toughness, we were out-hustled. We wanted to box out, that was our game plan, but we just didn’t do it.”
Hawai’i scored the first basket of the game – a driving layup by Allen – to take a 2-0 lead, but it would be short-lived. In what would become a recurring theme throughout the game, the Tar Heels built a seemingly comfortable lead, only to have to hold off a Hawai’i surge.
After the Tar Heels went up 17-8, Brocke Stepteau came off the bench and drained back-to-back 3-pointers – including a pull-up 3 on a fastbreak that energized the crowd – to highlight an 8-0 run that cut the UNC lead to 17-16. Stepteau, who was a seldom-used reserve last season, finished with six points and two assists while playing a career-high 23 minutes.
The Tar Heels responded with a 13-2 surge to push their lead up to 30-18, but the Warriors rallied again with a 9-0 surge to cut it to 30-27. The Tar Heels eventually took a 35-27 lead at intermission.
“Their inside-outside attack, they’re just so well-balanced, that’s why they’re so good, and they’re extremely well-coached,” Ganot said of the Tar Heels. “Our margin for error wasn’t great, but we were hanging in there … in the crucial moments when we cut it, we couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
The Warriors got as close as 40-37 early in the second half, but the Tar Heels responded with a 12-2 surge to seize control for good with 13:25 remaining.
Hawai’i’s last rally attempt came with under seven minutes remaining, when Drammeh drained a 3-pointer, and then hit two free throws on the next possession to cut the UNC lead to 66-58. That would be as close as it would get, as the Tar Heels went on an 8-0 run to seal the victory.
Allen scored 14 of his points in the second half, on 6-of-9 shooting. The Warriors shot 55.2 percent (16 for 29) from the field in the second half, but the Tar Heels were even better at 63.3 percent (19 for 30).
Drammeh scored all 13 of his points in the second half, and also helped defend UNC point guard and All-America candidate Joel Berry II. Berry, who entered the game averaging 21.3 points per game, scored just two points on 1 for 9 shooting, though he did pass for six assists (with four turnovers).
Veteran UNC head coach Roy Williams said on his team’s Website: “It was one of the ugliest games I’ve ever coached in my entire life. We’ve got to get everybody caring about it a little bit more on the defensive end. If you can’t guard the basketball, it’s hard to play.”
Ganot said the team will get back to practice on Sunday, and prepare for its next opponent – NCAA Division II Hawai’i-Hilo – the same way it prepared for UNC.
“Get back to work and see if we can get better,” Ganot said. “I think in certain ways we did, and in certain ways we regressed. Again, I’m very pleased with a lot of moments in the game, some we definitely need to work on, for sure. Credit North Carolina for the victory, and really appreciative of our crowd.”
The Warriors were attempting to score just their third win over a top-five opponent in program history. The previous wins came against No. 2 Kansas in 1997, and No. 4 Michigan State in 2005.
The Warriors still have three home games coming up in the month of November: Hawai’i-Hilo (November 22), Troy (November 25) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (November 27).
Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)
Leave a Response
You must be logged in to post a comment.