UPDATED: Warriors get Christmas win over Southern Miss
Whether it was for Christmas, Hannukah or the end of a four-game losing streak, there was much to celebrate Sunday morning for the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team.
For the Warriors and their fans, the long-awaited gift was earned via a sound 60-46 victory over Southern Mississippi for seventh place in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
A sparse-but-appreciative Stan Sheriff Center crowd of about 2,000 and a national TV audience on ESPNU watched Jack Purchase score a game-high 17 points and Gibson Johnson add 10 points and five rebounds as UH snapped its four-game losing streak to improve to 5-7. Southern Miss fell to 3-9.
It was the Warriors’ first win in 28 days, since beating Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 64-44, on Nov. 27.
“This was big for us — we had to snap that losing streak,” said Purchase, who made 5 of 10 attempts from 3-point range and added four rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. “We focused well today, we wanted it more.”
Leland Green, who added six points, 11 rebounds and three assists, went even one step further.
“This was a very big game for us, the team, the program and the state,” said Green, a true freshman shooting guard. “It came down to pride.”
Slow starts had plagued Hawai’i throughout the losing streak, but the Warriors came out strong Sunday and only got stronger as the game progressed.
Green’s 3-point basket from the left corner with 9:06 remaining in the first half broke a 17-17 tie, and Johnson’s layup with 3:21 left capped a 10-1 run that put them up, 27-18. UH eventually led, 32-22, at halftime.
The Warriors went 7 for 15 from 3-point range in the first half, including Purchase’s 3 for 5.
“I was struggling from a couple games before, but today I felt in rhythm,” Purchase said. “I was stepping into the shot, and it felt good coming off the hands.”
Defensively, Hawai’i held Southern Miss to 7 of 23 (30.4 percent) shooting in the first half, including 3 of 12 (25 percent) from 3-point range.
“For the first time in a while, we actually started off the game well,” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “I’m proud of them — the hustle plays, I thought we were all over the floor, the energy was good … Our halfcourt offense has improved, it’s been there. For us to make the jump, our offense needs to help our defense. We moved the ball, shared it. (But) we gotta be stronger around the rim … I’m proud of our intensity, I think we’re moving in the right direction, but we’ve still got a lot of things we need to shore up.”
The Golden Eagles closed it to 34-25 on Eddie Davis’ 3-pointer 20 seconds into the second half, but Johnson answered with a hook shot a minute later to ignite a 14-2 run capped by Sheriff Drammeh’s layup to push the lead to 48-27 with 8:52 remaining.
Southern Miss then could not get closer than 16 points until the final 70 seconds.
“I’m really happy for our guys, we’ve obviously been struggling, going through some things and trying to battle through it,” Ganot said. “I thought we were ready from the get-go (today) and very professional in our approach. We talked a lot about how we finished that game against Utah (in a 66-52 loss Friday night) — playing right, doing things right — and I thought that gave us some momentum, something that we could build off of that gave us a professional approach following that game.”
Green’s 11 rebounds tied the team’s season-high for an individual, matched only by Noah Allen vs. Florida Atlantic on Nov. 14 and Johnson vs. Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Nov. 11.
“You can see how he can help out the team,” Ganot said. “You saw him hit that 3, you saw him hit that short baseline jumper, he gives you something on the defensive end, and he’s a guy who can go to the glass — he showed that today. He can give us a different dimension.”
The Warriors return to action at 8 p.m. Thursday with a non-conference game against Delaware State, their last non-league contest before starting Big West play the following week.
“This is a unique, special time — we’ve got guys with their families visiting, so they get to enjoy this with their families,” Ganot said. “And then once the 29th hits, it’s back to our conference routine. We gotta freshen up, attack practices, and get ready.
“We gotta get better — quick.”
(Game photos courtesy Brandon Flores and Chris Kadooka // www.brandonfloresphotography.com)
Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic
Championship: San Diego State 62, San Francisco 48
Third Place: Illinois State 68, Tulsa 56
Fifth Place: Utah 74, Stephen F. Austin 66
Seventh Place: Hawai’i 60, Southern Miss 46
David Collette, Utah
Deontae Hawkins, Illinois State
Charles Minlend, San Francisco
Trey Kell, San Diego State
MOP: Zylan Cheatham, San Diego State
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