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UPDATED: Warriors power past UC Davis, 77-72, to move atop Big West

After a rough-and-tumble early climb, Hawai’i is now enjoying the view from the top of the Big West Conference men’s basketball standings.

Jack Purchase scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds and Sheriff Drammeh added 14 points Saturday night to help the Warriors hold off visiting UC Davis, 77-72, and move into sole possession of first place in Big West.

A vocal Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 6,581 watched Gibson Johnson and Leland Green each add 11 points as UH improved to 13-5 overall and 4-1 in the Big West. The Aggies fell to 12-7, 3-2. Cal State Fullerton, which had entered the evening in first place at 4-1, lost at Long Beach State, 81-73.

“It feels great, it’s something we’ve been working toward the whole year, the whole summer, the whole preseason,” said Purchase, who drained four of seven 3-pointers and finished just one point shy of matching his season-high of 22 points. “We knew we could do it, we just gotta keep it rolling.”

The Warriors broke a 39-39 tie early in the second half with a 10-0 run capped by Mike Thomas’ layup with 14 minutes to play, but UC Davis chipped away and eventually drew to 63-60 on Chima Monk’s finger roll with 1:44 remaining.

But Green answered with a 3-pointer from the left wing 23 seconds later, and Johnson added a three-point play to make it 75-67 with 28.8 ticks left. The Aggies later closed it to 75-72 after AJ John’s deep 3-pointer from the top of the key and Siler Schneider’s layup off a baseline drive with 14.7 seconds remaining.

But Purchase sank two free throws two ticks later to effectively seal the victory, which finally came only after Drammeh Thomas and Buggs all fouled out. Hawai’i already was short-handed with veteran point guard Brocke Stepteau on the bench in street clothes while recovering from surgery on a slightly fractured finger on his right (shooting) hand, and also withstood rare technical fouls called on Purchase and Drammeh.

“It took a lot of composure, we knew it was going to be this type of game, so we just had to get ready for it and stay within the team,” said Green, who broke out of a six-game offensive slump in which he went scoreless in three contests and was limited to a combined five field goals in the other three. “It was a whole team job … I knew I had to come out and give the team energy and a spark, but it was a team effort.”

Hawai’i coach Eran Ganot said that team effort was “really gutsy,” considering all the challenges that were presented.

“That’s what it was,” Ganot said. “Today was a great battle between two really good teams. We have so much respect for that program, Coach (Jim) Les, and that fight (in them). There’s a reason they’ve won (Big West) championships and are in a position again. I’m really proud of our guys, this was a gutsy game. You hear us talk about ‘Next man up, every man up,’ because it’s not on one guy to carry the load when someone like Brocke — who’s been playing at such a high level — goes out. You need it from everybody, everybody just has to do a little better, and they did.

“And then within the game, there could be some adversity. You’re talking foul trouble, Drew limping over there … and our great medical staff working with our guys during the game to keep them out there in such a hotly contested game. Overall, I knew it was ugly at times, but I couldn’t be prouder of our group for doing it together and staying together.”

The teams traded surges in an intense first half, with UC Davis grabbing an early 4-0 lead, the Warriors responding with a 9-3 run to go up, 9-7, the Aggies scoring five straight to jump ahead, 12-9, and then UH answering with a 16-4 run capped by Brandon Thomas’ drive and floater to give the Warriors a 25-16 lead with 7:50 still to play.

UC Davis fought back and closed it to 25-22 on Chima Moneke’s tip-in off an alley-oop pass with 6:32 left, but then Purchase bookended an 11-2 Hawai’i run with two 3-pointers — the second of which gave the Warriors a 36-24 lead with four minutes on the clock.

But the Aggies responded with their own 11-2 surge, capped by two free throws by TJ Shorts with a half minute remaining to cut it to 38-35. Brandon Thomas then made one of two free throws eight seconds later to put Hawai’i ahead, 39-35, at the break.

UC Davis opened the second half with Shorts’ pull-up floater after a baseline drive followed by Schneider’s baseline jumper to tie it at 39-39 with 18:37 left.

That’s when Mike Thomas scored on a layup off a spin move to ignite the 10-0 run, which he capped with another layup to make it 49-39 at the 14-minute mark.

But Thomas, who picked up two fouls in the game’s first three minutes and sat out the rest of the half, was whistled for his third foul less than eight minutes into the second half. Buggs — the starting point guard — then pulled up with cramps in his right calf about three minutes later, and Purchase later picked up his fourth foul with 6:44 remaining.

Thomas got his fourth foul with 3:23 left, Drammeh fouled out at the 2:47 mark, and then when Buggs was whistled for his fifth with 35.5 seconds remaining, that left the Warriors without a true point guard available.

“I felt pretty good about the way we were getting the ball inbounds,” Ganot said. “We were getting fouled, and we were making our free throws. It was gonna be tough, there was still a lot of time left in the game. But I did feel good about having a timeout, so if we got stuck, we were gonna use it.”

Johnson gave UH some breathing room with his three-point play to make it 75-67 with 28.8 ticks left, but then the Aggies closed it to 75-72 after John’s deep 3-pointer from the top of the key followed by Schneider’s layup off a baseline drive with 14.7 seconds remaining.

Only after Purchase sank two free throws two ticks later could the Warriors feel safe about the win.

“For the last eight minutes, our composure was nails, and it was reflected on the free throw line,” Ganot said. “That was something we had been struggling with, but (tonight) guys hit big free throws. I wish we could have done a better job defensively in the last five minutes.”

Hawai’i finished with 21 made free throws in 26 attempts (80.8 percent), after failing to reach even 70 percent in its previous four games. Drammeh lead the way, draining 9 of 10 from the free-throw line.

Defensively, the Warriors held Moneke — who entered the game second in the conference at 19 points and 9.9 rebounds per game — to 14 points and nine boards. UC Davis shot 43.1 percent overall (25 for 58), but just 15.8 percent (3 for 19) from 3-point range.

“It’s point of attack, and team,” Ganot said. “You can’t guard these guys one-on-one, when they run so many things through them. The guy (Moneke) plays 33 minutes, and Mike Thomas, who is out best defender at that spot, plays 14. The zone helped us, mixing up defenses helped us, and then we did a good job getting him off his ideal spots and then we brought support. We’re gonna do it as a team, or we’re not going to do it. Our defense and our offense is built on just that.”

Purchase, who entered the game shooting 34.5 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from 3-point range for the season, shot 6 for 9 from the field and 4 for 7 from 3-point range. Thomas finished with six points and four rebounds in 14 minutes. Buggs contributed nine points, seven assists, three rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.

Ganot said getting key minutes from reserves Brandon Thomas (28), Zigmars Raimo (8) and Samuta Avea (7) also was key.

“A lot of guys — and it doesn’t always show in the box score — came in and gave us a lift,” Ganot said. “They were huge for us … they did a great job. Everybody’s got to be ready to help, and they were. We don’t win that game without Zigmars, Samuta, Brandon off the bench, no way.”

UC Davis head coach Jim Les said: “I thought this was a good atmosphere and an opportunity lost, in my opinion. This was a game that we could have won, you have to give Hawai’i credit. They played well and made the necessary plays.”

UH returns to action against Cal State Fullerton (11-7, 4-2) at 8 p.m. Saturday, ending a rare 17-day, four-game homestead.

“I’ll always take an opportunity to thank our fans,” Ganot said. “I think our fans have been tremendous, and today it was a factor … People in Hawai’i support effort and team, and our team is doing that at a maximum level. And that’s why we’re having the success we’ve had, including the turnout we had tonight.

“We have a big game Saturday, and we need that (again).”

CLICK HERE to view boxscore

(Game photos courtesy Chris Kadooka and Matt Osumi)

CLICK HERE to view photo gallery

Big West Conference
Saturday’s Results

at UC Santa Barbara 70, UC Irvine 58
at CSUN 72, Cal Poly 54
at Long Beach State 81, Cal State Fullerton 73
at Hawai’i 77, UC Davis 72

Wednesday’s Game
UC Riverside at UC Irvine

Thursday’s Games
Long Beach State at Cal Poly
CSUN at UC Davis
UC Santa Barbara at Cal State Fullerton

Saturday’s Games
Cal Poly at UC Davis
UC Santa Barbara at UC Riverside
Long Beach State at CSUN
Cal State Fullerton at Hawai’i, 8:00 p.m.

7 Comments

  1. Without Brocke and without Mike(1st half).. this team stepped up proper!!

    Good to see Purch go off!

  2. In as much as I love the team, I’ve been wondering if this is the weakest Hawaii team to ever be in 1st place in the Big West at this stage of the season. I can’t help shaking my head to see us in 1st place and with a 13-5 record. My goodness… and we can’t even keep up with Princeton.

    It appears the path to the Big West regular season championship or even the Big West tournament championship seems a little easier this year than in past years, where we had better talent. I’m not complaining, but it’s funny how 2 years ago, we talked about how Hawaii teams would give powerhouse teams (like Oklahoma) all they can handle in December, yet Hawaii would get no respect. Now, if we stumble into the NCAA tournament, we probably would get hammered, like how Princeton hammered us a few weeks ago.

    It’s just so weird this year.

  3. Njacinto, the Big West is at its weakest in years. It is surprising we’re top of the conference considering we were picked to finish fifth. Being first with 13-5 record isn’t strange. Look at most teams atop mid major conferences and you’ll see they have similar records. We may have lost against Princeton but we hung in that game up until the last 6 minutes of the game.

  4. I said it two weeks ago that this UH team will be the Big West champs if they go 4-0 in these home games and now it is looking true. As others have said before, this is a very very weak conference this year and UH already beat two of the so called good teams in UCSB and UC Davis. I don’t think Fullerton is that good and we should beat them next game.

    The big question is on the road, but I say if UH can split all the road trips and finish 4-4 on the road, that will make them 12-4 in the conference and that should be enough for Big West champs!

  5. LOL! It’s the opposite of that Benji Taylor team of 2015, with all that talent and potential, yet seemingly falling apart at the end… either because other Big West teams played better team basketball or because Benji (and Gib Arnold for that matter) were outcoached down the stretch.

    There are times when this year’s team just finds a way to win, or perhaps Eran Ganot just outcoaches an opponent in the final minutes… but Hawaii’s talent this year isn’t THAT great and hasn’t been particularly consistent… But hey… keep winning games you’re supposed to win, beat the Big West on a down year, and give us another NCAA team to follow in March! It’s all good… confusing but good.

  6. So far, the conference RPI rank is 18 compared to 29 in 2016-17. It was 15 in 2015-16, 14 in 2014-15 and 22 in 2013-14.
    So if it stays around the 18, it is far better than last season and not the weakest it’s been.

  7. UH doesn’t have the star player but has many guys who can step up and lead the team on any given night. It’s a tough team to game plan for and they are competing the defensive end.

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