UPDATED: Warriors make it four in a row with 74-65 win over Cal Poly
Lo and behold, this supposedly “rebuilding year” for University of Hawai’i men’s basketball is turning into much, much more.
Noah Allen scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds, Gibson Johnson added 15 points and Jack Purchase chipped in with 11 points Thursday night to help the Warriors hold off Cal Poly, 74-65, in Big West Conference men’s basketball action.
A “Star Wars Night” crowd of 5,596 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched Ido Flaisher contribute 10 points and six boards off the bench as the Warriors won their season-high fourth straight game to improve to 12-11 overall, 6-4 in the Big West. The Mustangs fell to 7-17, 2-8.
UH is now only one game behind second-place UC Irvine (14-12, 7-3), which visits the SSC at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“Really proud of our guys, to fight their way back to be in this position,” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “All of these games are battles.”
That was true Thursday night, despite Cal Poly never taking a lead.
The Warriors led, 38-31, at halftime but the Mustangs began the second half with a 9-2 run capped by Jakub Niziol’s 3-pointer from the right corner to tie it at 40-40 with 17:54 remaining in the game.
Hawai’i quickly took the lead back on a layup by Allen, and later used a 10-0 run capped by Purchase’s 3-pointer from the left corner to stretch it to 56-44 with 10:23 left.
“We’re more experienced now, we’ve been through almost every situation together, so we have the confidence that we can stick together and pull it out,” Allen said.
The Mustangs could not get closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“We were just focusing on the defensive end,” said Allen, who also had two steals and one block. “We knew they had a bunch of shooters, so that was one of the focuses coming in. I thought we did a pretty good job — they shot 8 for 21 (from 3-point range) but they’re a good shooting team and we did a pretty good job of running them off the line.”
That was especially true in the first half, when Cal Poly made just 9 of 24 field goals (37.5 percent), including only 2 of 10 from beyond the arc.
“I’m proud of our defensive effort,” Ganot said. “If you take away the isolation, if you take away that run in the first couple minutes of the second half, I thought we were really nails defensively. Finally, we’re rebounding (23 on the defensive end).”
Flaisher, a 6-foot-10 freshman, played nine relatively quiet minutes in the first half with two points and two rebounds. But he excited the crowd and his teammates with eight spirited second-half minutes in which he produced eight points and four boards.
“That’s what we need from him, to bring that energy off the bench,” Allen said. “He’s a freshman, so it’s hard to build that consistency, but recently he’s been real consistent so that’s really big for us and we’re all so happy for him.”
The Warriors built the lead to 72-58 after Johnson’s layup off Matt Owies’ assist with 1:52 remaining, effectively sealing the victory.
Johnson shot 7 for 10 from the field, and Purchase went 4 for 5 to help lead the Warriors to 50.9 percent shooting (29 for 57) for the game. It is only the second game this season that Hawai’i shot better than 50 percent from the field.
Another key statistic was turnovers. Cal Poly entered the game leading the Big West (and sixth in the nation) in fewest turnovers per game at 10.2, but the Mustangs tied their season-high with 16 against the Warriors. In contrast, Hawai’I tied its season-low with 10 turnovers.
UH also won despite starting guard Leland Green missing his second straight game due to a stomach virus.
Ganot said Green is “feeling better” but still was not sure of his availability for Saturday’s showdown against UC Irvine.
With six games remaining, the Warriors are still in a position to finish with a previously unexpected 16 or 17 wins and again challenge for the Big West regular season title — something very few people imagined would be possible.
But Ganot said he and his team are trying to stay focused on the now.
“We’re really locked in,” Ganot said. “We know we gotta get better. We just talk about daily progress … I think that’s helped us, it helped our group last year and I think it’s helped us this year.”
Focusing on Irvine should not be a problem, since the Anteaters handed Hawai’i a resounding 84-56 defeat on Jan. 7.
“They’re a really good team, so we have to come ready to play, for sure,” Allen said.
(Game photos courtesy Matt Osumi and Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)
Long Beach State 78, at UC Riverside 71
at Hawai’i 74, Cal Poly 65
UC Riverside at UC Davis
Long Beach State at Cal State Fullerton
UC Santa Barbara at CSUN
UC Irvine at Hawai’i, 7:30 p.m. (Hawai’i time)
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