UPDATED: Slow start hampers Hawai’i again in loss to Princeton
For the second straight day, the University of Hawai’i basketball team started slow and could not consistently keep in step with a team of “Jersey Boys” who were in smooth rhythm by comparison.
This time, it was Princeton that capitalized in a 75-62 victory Wednesday in the finale of the FS1 Pearl Harbor Invitational at Bloch Arena, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. A mixed crowd of about 1,200 civilians and military personnel — plus a national TV audience — watched the Tigers drain seven 3-pointers in the game’s first 15 minutes in improving to 3-4.
Noah Allen scored 19 points with four rebounds and Gibson Johnson also had 19 points, but without a rebound, to lead the Rainbow Warriors (4-5).
“We don’t have the margin for error to not have things click,” Hawai’i coach Eran Ganot said. “We gotta be clicking on all cylinders, and we didn’t come out ready to play.”
Continuing a recent – and disturbing – trend, the Rainbow Warriors fell behind early and this time, they never recovered as Princeton started hot and did not really cool off for any significant stretch. The Tigers shot 10 for 24 (41.7 percent) from 3-point range, while UH was just 4 for 19 (21.1 percent).
Princeton scored on an uncontested breakaway layup just seconds after the tipoff, and then hit two quick 3-pointers during a 10-2 surge to open the game. Johnson drained a long 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it 10-5, but the Tigers then responded with an 11-4 surge to increase the lead to 21-9 with 13:51 remaining in the first half.
“Playing soft, leaving shooters open, no scrap, no talk (on defense) … it’s a shame,” Ganot said. “We played on our heels, and no one’s good playing on their heels. But give credit to Princeton, that’s a good program and has been for some time. You could see why they’re picked to win their league, coming off a really good year and returning 98 percent of their team. Give Princeton credit for taking it to us from the start.”
Sheriff Drammeh scored on a three-point play – he was fouled while scoring on a driving layup and made the subsequent free throw – to get the Rainbow Warriors to within seven at 26-19, but the Tigers came right back with a 10-0 run during a three-minute stretch to push the lead up to 36-19 with 5:06 remaining in the half. Princeton eventually took a 43-23 lead at intermission.
“It was just energy, it was just effort — we didn’t play hard at all in the first half,” said Hawai’i point guard Brocke Stepteau, who made his second start of the season and finished with seven points and four assists. “We came out on our heels, and they punched us in the mouth.”
Princeton’s Steve Cook, a 6-foot-5 senior forward, had 17 points and seven rebounds in the first half. He had five total 3-pointers in the six games prior to Wednesday, but went 5-for-7 from 3-point range in the first half against UH. He finished with a team-high 21 points and nine rebounds.
“We got off to a really nice start this evening, I thought the energy and effort was there,” Tigers coach Mitch Henderson said. “Steve Cook really got us going, he was very confident with the ball … It’s been a long time coming, we’re seven games in, and we haven’t had everything clicking. I think Steve got everything going and took pressure off of everybody else, he played clear-headed.”
The Rainbow Warriors scored the first seven points of the second half to cut the deficit to 43-30, and were within nine points at 47-38 after Johnson’s free throw with 14:43 left in the game. Hawai’i managed to keep pace for the next three minutes, as Stepteau later converted both ends of a 1-and-1 to make it 54-44.
“I thought offensively, they were very aggressive, and that was a big difference for them,” Henderson said. “That tends to get your defense going.”
Stepteau said Ganot and his staff sent a clear message that things needed to change after halftime.
“The coaches challenged our manhood, basically,” Stepteau said. “Representing the state of Hawai’i, we didn’t do a good job of that in the first half, and we talked about what this tournament means to us and what it means to our state. So we tried to come out with a better effort in the second half. But when you put yourself in a whole like that in the first half, it’s gonna be hard to overcome.”
Spencer Weisz then bookended a 12-2 run with a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put Princeton ahead, 66-46, with 9:09 remaining, and the Rainbow Warriors could not get closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
“You don’t always have to learn the hard way, but we keep putting ourselves in that position where we have to,” Ganot said. “And it’s not just losing, it’s regret. The hard way is regret — you can’t get that back, you can’t start the game over again. But I’m proud of our guys, (at halftime) we said we need to cut it to 12 by the first media (timeout), and we cut it to 10. But then what happened after that was some miscues. Again, fighting to come back takes a lot out of you …
“We gotta stop putting ourselves in that position.”
Hawai’i will now have two weeks before its next game, which will be against Illinois State on the opening night of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic on December 22. The UH players will also use the extra time off to prepare for final exams on the Manoa campus next week.
(Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)
Seton Hall 60, Cal 57
Princeton 75, Hawai’i 62
Cal 62, Princeton 51
Seton Hall 68, Hawai’i 57
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