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UPDATED: Warriors rally past UTEP, 67-63, in Classic opener

Photo courtesy Chris Kadooka

Proving that some yuletide wishes die hard, Hawai’i fought and scratched and kept its Christmas hope alive Sunday night by rallying past Scrooge-like Texas-El Paso, 67-63, in the opening round of the 11th Annual Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

A vocal and intense crowd of 4,292 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched freshman Bernardo Da Silva score a career-high 17 points — including the go-ahead layup with 1:29 remaining — and grab five rebounds, and Samuta Avea add 16 points and eight boards as the Warriors improved to 8-3 and advanced to Monday’s 6 p.m. semifinal against No. 22-ranked Washington. UTEP, which was led by Bryson Williams’ game-high 33 points, will face Ball State at 8:30 p.m. in the consolation bracket.

UH has never reached the tournament’s Christmas Day championship game, and will be making its first semifinal appearance since 2015.

“It’s lots of fun, a big-time tournament, something we look forward to every year,” said Avea, a junior wing who grew up in Hau’ula. “It’s great we get to host something like this, so hopefully more people come out (on Monday).”

Sunday’s home crowd was by far the loudest and most intense of the season so far, especially after the Warriors rallied from a 42-33 deficit two minutes into the second half to finally take the lead again at 54-53 on Avea’s clutch 3-pointer from beyond the top of the key with 5:47 left. The Miners had led, 37-31, at halftime and was ahead for most of the second half.

They took the lead again quickly on Daryl Edwards’ rainbow 3-pointer from the right wing to go ahead, 56-54, with five minutes remaining, and then went up 58-54 about 40 seconds later on the last of several impressive jump hook shots by Williams, a surprisingly athletic 6-foot-8, 228-pound junior forward.

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

“He made some tough shots, and if he’s going to make those tough shots and we’re playing good defense, then we’ll live with those,” Avea said. “We’ll go back to the film and the ones where our defense breaks down, those are the ones we’re not OK with. But he’s a great player.”    

Hawai’i acting head coach Chris Gerlufsen said Williams is “the best big man we’ve faced, for sure,” better even than any post player from early high-major opponents Illinois and Oregon.

“He got his 33, and we still found a way to win, so credit (assistant) Coach Montgomery for his game plan,” Gerlufsen said. “(Williams) can score from all three levels, he can put it on the floor, he’s got great poise in the post, he has a tremendous touch for a big guy, and when he steps out and shoots he looks like a guard shooting it … He’s a heckuva player, and I have all the respect for him.”

The Warriors closed it to 58-56 after Eddie Stansberry’s two free throws with 3:55 left, and then tied it at 58-58 on Da Silva’s thunderous slam dunk with 3:09 remaining. However, Da Silva was immediately issued a technical foul for taunting after the dunk, and Williams untied it with two ensuing free throws to make it 60-58.

But UH was not done yet.

Avea was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made two of three free throws to tie it again at 60-60 with 2:20 left, and Da Silva put the Warriors ahead for good at 62-60 with his layup off an isolation play with 1:29 left. Gerlufsen said he had confidence in calling Da Silva’s number during a 30-second timeout just prior to the go-ahead basket, despite the 6-9 freshman being mostly a role player and never playing more than 18 minutes in a game prior to Sunday.

“You know what, Bernardo grew up a lot tonight,” Gerlufsen said. “He had it going, he wasn’t scared … we just thought at that time in the game, they probably weren’t going to be ready for Bernardo to take the shot. He did a heck of a job getting to two feet and just making a veteran play. That was a huge play that led to the win.”

Photo courtesy Chris Kadooka

After a UTEP miss at the other end, Buggs squeezed through traffic to score a tough reverse layup just milliseconds before the shot clock buzzer to make it 64-60 with 37.8 ticks remaining overall. Buggs finished with nine points and eight assists.

“In crunch time, Drew just finds a way to get into the play that winds up helping you win the game,” Gerlufsen said. “He’s incredibly clutch, he kept our team in the game with just his talk on the bench during timeouts. We could have easily folded at a lot of points in the game, but he held our group together.” 

Williams, was not done yet, either. He closed it to 64-63 with a deep 3-pointer from the left wing with 22.8 seconds left, and after Buggs made two free throws to push the lead to 66-63 one tick later, Jordan Lathon lost the ball out of bounds while trying to drive past Buggs, who then effectively sealed the victory with a free throw to make it 67-63 at 15.2 seconds remaining.

Edwards’ 3-point attempt from well beyond the top of the key on the ensuing possession was an airball, and Stansberry grabbed the rebound to secure the W.

Stansberry, who entered the evening as Hawai’i’s leading scorer at 19.7 points per game, finished with seven points on 2-for-8 shooting and also grabbed six rebounds. He was blanketed closely for much of the night, and was able to take only three shots in the first half.

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores


“That’s how teams are going to guard him, as we go deeper into the season,” Gerlufsen said. “There’s so much more he can do to help us win other than make 3’s, and I think he knows that, and he’s going to bounce back tomorrow and be the Eddie that we all know.”

The Warriors in general struggled from the free throw line, making only 12 of 25 attempts (48 percent) after entering the game shooting at a 73.5 percent clip.

“It wasn’t the prettiest (game) in the world, but we just kept plugging, plugging, plugging, and eventually we found our stride and different guys stepped up and we gutted out a win,” Gerlufsen said. “And sometimes, that kind of win tells you a lot about your team because we had guys who had off nights … but yet other guys stepped up. And that’s part of growing a culture and growing a team, and all credit to the guys in the locker room, because they did an unbelievable job.”  

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Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic
Sunday’s Results

Houston 81, Portland 56
Georgia Tech 74, Boise State 60
Washington 85, Ball State 64
Hawai’i 67, UTEP 63

Monday’s Games
11:30 a.m. – Portland vs. Boise State
2:00 p.m. – Houston vs. Georgia Tech
6:00 p.m. – Hawai’i vs. Washington
8:30 p.m. – Ball State vs. UTEP

HAWAI’I (8-3, 0-0 Big West) vs. WASHINGTON (9-2, 0-0 Pac-12)
When:
Monday, December 23, 6:00 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: ESPN2
Streaming video: WatchESPN.com / ESPN App
Radio:  Live on ESPN Honolulu (1420 AM/92.7 FM), KRKH (Maui), KPUA (Hawai’i Island), and KTOH (Kaua’i).
Audio Webcast:ESPN1420am.com/Sideline Hawai’i App.
Live Stats:StatBroadcast.com
Ticket Information: Lower level – $30 for all available seats. Upper level – $18 for adults, $10 for senior citizens (65-older) and students (ages 4 through high school). Parking is $7.

2 Comments

  1. Gutsy win by the warriors…it was a tough game to watch but I had a feeling they’d pull out the W! Da Silva was great, but hopefully he can get that FT% up. Avea was huge in getting us back in the game and Buggs/Stansberry were clutch in the end. Looking forward to another great game against UW tonight!

    Also want to add that I thought Da Silva’s technical was complete BS. He looked at the guy and said some stuff….come on, really?? It’s basketball, it’s a physical/emotional sport. Guys trash talk each other but it’s not like punches were thrown! What a stupid rule, nearly cost us the game.

  2. Great win! I to agree that was a no call on the technical.

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