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UPDATED: Warriors pull away from Cal State Fullerton, 70-59

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

Wearing pink shoes but playing with aggression, Hawai’i pounced on visiting Cal State Fullerton after a slow start and did not let up for a convincing and crucial 70-59 Big West Conference men’s basketball victory.

A Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 3,532 — many wearing pink for breast cancer awareness — watched Drew Buggs score 20 points and grab five rebounds, Eddie Stansberry add 15 points and four boards, and Justin Webster contribute 10 points as the Warriors improved to 16-11 overall and 7-6 in the Big West. Johnny Wang scored a game-high 21 points off the bench and Jackson Rowe added 13 points to lead the Titans, who fell to 10-18, 5-8.

The win assured Hawai’i a spot in the Big West Conference Championship Tournament, March 12-14 at Anaheim, Calif. The Warriors can still finish anywhere from a No. 2 to a No. 7 seed, pending the remaining outcomes of the regular season.

UH, which had lost five of its previous six games, is currently in a three-way tie for third place with UC Davis and Cal State Northridge in the clustered Big West standings with only three games remaining.

“Great win, (it was) closer to a 40-minute effort for our guys, most consistent than we’ve been in a while on both ends,” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said. “We started off the game well, but we didn’t defend well and had some lapses … but from then on out the spirit and fight of our guys was tremendous and although we had some lapses in the first half, we didn’t have many in the second and that created the separation. More than anything, I was just proud of our guys, we’re chipping away, and we took a step in the right direction.”

Hawai’i trailed 15-8 five minutes into the game, but scored eight straight points to take a 16-15 lead three minutes later, then later went on another 8-0 run to go ahead, 36-31 with 3:18 remaining in the first half. Cal State Fullerton closed it to 38-36 by halftime, but the Warriors opened the second half with yet another 8-0 run to lead, 46-36 four minutes after the break and the Titans could not get closer than six points the rest of the way.

Photo courtesy Matt Osumi

“It means a lot to get the support from my teammates and the coaches, they’re like a second family to me,” said Buggs, who lost his mother, Mary, to breast cancer last October. The team wore special pink warm-up T-shirts with “Mrs. Buggs” printed on the back. “Most importantly we just wanted to come out here and get back on track, play closer and closer to 40 minutes. I wanted to make sure we came out and played hard and honor my mom the right way.”

The Titans came out fast and tried to play spoiler by taking leads of 7-2, 12-6 and 15-8 thanks to balanced scoring and shot-making from near and far. But UH quickly recovered and Stansberry squeezed in a tricky reverse layup to cap the first 8-0 run and put the Warriors ahead, 16-15, with 11:47 remaining in the first half.

After Wayne Arnold drained a 3-pointer from the left wing to give Cal State Fullerton a 31-28 lead with 5:12 left, Zigmars Raimo answered with a nifty turnaround jumper to spark the second 8-0 surge culminating in Buggs’ steal and layup to push Hawai’i in front, 36-31, at the 3:18 mark. The Titans closed out the half with a layup by Wang and another 3-pointer by Arnold to cut it to 38-36, but the Warriors made a statement with unusual full court pressure — something that opponents had effectively thrown at them during the previous six games.

“We haven’t had doubts about our press, or the pressure we want to apply,”  said.

In years past, Ganot had emphasized that his teams tend to invite trouble by “playing on their heels,” and he reminded this group of that observation Thursday night.

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

“We said, ‘On our terms, on their heels,’ ” Ganot said. “We saw it at times, when we were catching the ball, our rolls, our driving into the paint … Just playing strong, and dictating.”

The aggression continued right after halftime, when the third 8-0 run produced a 46-36 lead capped by Buggs’ mid-range pull-up jumper that bounced high off the rim and dropped through the net at the shot clock buzzer with 16:06 remaining in the game.

“Today I definitely wanted to come out aggressive and make them have to guard me,” Buggs said. “It’s credit to my teammates, they call out the shot clock and it’s my job to always know (the time). If I see that no one has the opportunity to create for themselves, I try to go get it and see if I can get the best shot I can.”

That lead would only be threatened once, when Cal State Fullerton cut it to 48-42 on Rowe’s layup with 12:30 showing. UH responded with a 7-2 run ending with Stansberry’s 3-pointer from the left corner, and Webster swished one from the same spot after a steal and assist by Stansberry to make it 62-48 with 4:52 remaining. 

The Titans could not get closer than the final score the rest of the way.

Photo courtesy Chris Kadooka

“We wanted to apply pressure in the second half and really give it to them,” Stansberry said. “It was working really good for us. We were able to do it tonight against a team usually likes to speed the game up and move fast. We kind of got to them, and it worked in our favor. We used it to our advantage.”

The Warriors, who entered the game ranking last in the nine-team conference in field goal shooting, finished the game shooting at a 22-of-51 (43.1 percent) clip and converted 22 of 27 free throws (81.5 percent), compared to the Titans’ 59.1 percent from the line.

Hawaii will close out its home season at 7 p.m. Saturday against UC Riverside(15-15, 5-9), with a large “White Out” crowd expected on Senior Night to honor Stansberry and Raimo.

“Having these two games this week is big for us, we wanted to focus and lock in and execute and secure two W’s,” said Stansberry, who has family members in town for this week’s games. “We want to thank the fans, too, because they come and support us, and you can hear them the whole game. It’s just a special feeling to win in this arena, it gets us back on track and where we need to be.

To see us get the ‘W’ and everyone with a smile on their face, it’s the change in direction that we want to go.”

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Thursday’s Results
UC Irvine 82, at Cal Poly 76
UC Santa Barbara 65, at UC Riverside 60
at Hawai’i 69, Cal State Fullerton 55

Saturday’s Games
Long Beach State at UC Davis
Cal State Fullerton at CSUN
UC Santa Barbara at UC Irvine
UC Riverside at Hawai’i

1 Comment

  1. Way to keep composure.. I like how they honored Mrs. Buggs

    Up next senior night.. gonna be a good one!

    Go bows!

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