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UPDATED: Warriors rally from 17 down to beat CSUN, 80-75

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

Digging out of an even deeper hole than it did a week before, Hawai’i overcame a 17-point deficit in the final 11 minutes Saturday night to rally past Cal State Northridge, 80-75, for another stunning Big West Conference men’s basketball comeback victory.

A vocal season-best crowd of 5,311 at the Stan Sheriff Center watched Eddie Stansberry score 22 points and Zigmars Raimo add a season-high 20 points — including the go-ahead basket with 40 seconds remaining — as the Rainbow Warriors improved to 14-6 overall and 5-1 in the Big West.

Freshman Justin Webster added a season-high 17 points, and Drew Buggs had eight points and 10 assists – his third consecutive game with double-digit assists – as the Warriors closed a four-game, three-week homestand with a 4-0 record.

UC Irvine routed Cal State Fullerton on Saturday night to improve to 6-1, a half-game ahead of the Warriors atop the Big West standings.

Lamine Diane had a game-high 23 points and 11 rebounds, Elijah Harkless added 16 points and five boards and Terrell Gomez contributed 13 points for the speedy and athletic Matadors, who fell to 9-15 and 4-4.

“You gotta have belief, and then you gotta make plays,” UH coach Eran Ganot said of the comeback, which came just seven days after his team rallied from a late nine-point deficit to beat UC Davis, 76-75. “The bottom line is, that belief keeps you together. We just came back from nine (points), with three minutes to go … Seventeen sounds insurmountable, but (11) minutes, that’s a better hand than we hand the other day. So it’s get good stops, get good shots … You gotta hang in with your convictions.”

Photo courtesy Chris Kadooka

After Diane sank a fadeaway mid-range jumper from the right flank to give CSUN a 65-48 lead with 11:07 remaining, the Warriors roared back and closed it to 75-74 on Raimo’s layup with 2:17 left, then took possession when the shot clock expired on the Matadors with 1:07 remaining.

After a timeout, Buggs missed a jumper, but the rebound caromed out of bounds off a CSUN player.  On the ensuing inbounds play, Buggs found Raimo, who banked in the go-ahead basket from the right-side block at the edge of the paint with 40 seconds remaining. It was Hawai’i’s first lead since the opening minutes of the game.

Warriors post Dawson Carper then grabbed the rebound after Gomez missed a 20-foot attempt from the right corner on CSUN’s next possession, and Webster sank both ends of a 1-and-1 with 13 ticks left to make it 78-75. On the Matadors’ final possession, Diane was called for traveling after getting stuck and pivoting near the 3-point line, and Justin Hemsley closed out the scoring with a slam dunk off a pass from Raimo with 1.1 seconds remaining.

Webster, a freshman guard making only his second start, appeared to have a breakaway layup opportunity after Carper’s rebound but elected to instead dribble away from the basket before being fouled by Diane.

“At first I was going to shoot the layup, but then I see (Diane) just hauling, so I said I’m just gonna be smart and dribble it out and let him foul me,” Webster said. “It’s those moments when you look back and just be smart with it.”

Webster started in place of Samuta Avea, who missed his second consecutive game with a back injury. Starting forward/center Bernardo da Silva sat out for the third consecutive game with a foot injury.

Photo courtesy Matt Osumi

CSUN’s team speed and athleticism definitely was evident during the game’s first 30 minutes, when the Matadors often scored on quick transition fast breaks or weaving layups and sudden pull-up jumpers. The Matadors shot 52.7 percent from the field and made 14 of 17 free throws, just two examples of their offensive firepower.

Diane, a rangy 6-foot-7 sophomore who can score from all angles and spots on the floor, caused the expected havoc on offense but had help from Harkless (12 first-half points) and sixth man Festus Ndumanya (eight first half points) as CSUN took a 41-32 lead at the break and built it to 65-48 with 11:07 left.

“At halftime, I said that wasn’t our brand of basketball,” Ganot said “We weren’t playing as hard as we normally do, we weren’t playing inside-out, we were jacking 3’s, letting it rip, so we weren’t getting inside or to the (free throw) line. And then we weren’t getting back in transition.”

But UH’s comeback started about 30 seconds later, when Raimo stole the ball from Diane near the 3-point line and Stansberry drained a pull-up 3-pointer from the right wing with 10:26 remaining. Stansberry then converted a technical free throw resulting from a “flop” call on Harkless, followed by Webster’s 3-pointer from the right wing to cut it to 65-55 with 9:45 still to play. 

Carper then scored on back-to-back layups — the latter after a steal by Stansberry — to quickly cut it to 65-59 with 9:11 showing on the clock.

“It started with playing our brand again, about as good as you can play — inside-out, great shots, mixed in some coverages on Diane,” Ganot said. “The underlying thing that is underrated in this thing is the hustle plays. We had a couple steals for layups, quick baskets.”

A 3-pointer by Stansberry from the right corner closed it to 68-65 with 6:40 left, but a three-point play by Diane later pushed the lead to 72-65 with 4:32 remaining. Raimo answered with a layup and then Stansberry buried another 3-pointer — his fifth on 12 attempts — to cut it to 72-70 with 3:38 on the clock.

Diane later made the second of two free throws to put the Matadors ahead, 75-72, with 2:40 left, but Raimo converted a layup 23 seconds later to close it to 75-74, and then banked in the go-ahead basket with 40 seconds remaining.

After a timeout seven ticks later, CSUN worked the ball to Gomez, who entered the night ranked fifth in the nation in average 3-point baskets per game (3.61). His attempt from the right corner went long, however, and Carper was able to gather in the key rebound.

Photo courtesy Chris Kadooka

Gomez, an explosive 5-foot-8 junior, torched the Warriors for 32 points in their last meeting on March 2, 2019. But guarded closely by Stansberry, he scored a quiet 13 points on 3-for-8 shooting Saturday night, including only one 3-pointer. He entered the game ranked second in NCAA Division I with 83 3-pointers.

“I’ve got respect for him, he’s a helluva scorer, a great offensive player,” Stansberry said. “(It was) just don’t let a guy like that get hot. All it takes for a player like him is to see one go in, and it just opens up. With him, he can shoot the 3 really well, and that was what we focused on — we wanted to take him off the 3-point line and make him make other plays. For me, my mindset was to not let him get comfortable, try to keep him moving. I know it gets tiring, it’s draining, so I tried to cut him off a lot.”

Ganot said Stansberry’s performance showed how he has developed his overall game.

“Gomez is one of the toughest covers in the country,” Ganot said. “I think Eddie is vastly underrated as a player — he was a shooter, now he’s a player, he plays both ends. I’m really proud of his growth. And he wanted that matchup.”

Webster showed experience beyond his years in the final moments, first by sensing Diane chasing him close from behind and thus electing to not risk a blocked shot, then by cooly swishing both ends of the 1-and-1.

“I’ve been in these moments before, it’s nothing new to me,” Webster said. “The whole season I’ve not been shooting free throws like I’m supposed to, I’ve been struggling. But it’s just been getting in the gym, repetition-repitition … and so when I stepped to the line, it was like, I’m making these.”

Ganot said he is happy with Webster’s poise and confidence in that sequence.

“I saw Diane, (but) I’m surprised he did,” Ganot said. “It looked like it was a breakaway, but if you saw Diane go from the end line to (our) free throw line in maybe two strides, it was incredible. I trust Webster in that moment, he took care of it, he got to the line and stuck it.”

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

CSUN head coach Mark Gottfried said, via the CSUN Athletics website: “I thought our kids played really hard. We had a couple breakdowns defensively and offensively we had couple. We have to execute better down the stretch. We made some mistakes and they took advantage of every one of them. They made key baskets in key times and did a great job. It’s a tough one. We had a good lead and gave it up.”

Ganot also credited the SSC crowd, which he said helped spark the comeback.

“I can’t thank our crowd enough,” Ganot said. “I know how special our crowd and the people of Hawai’i are, they will always support teams that are performing, but on an added level they appreciate work, they appreciate team, and they recognize when their programs need a boost.”

Its four-game homestead now concluded, UH will cross the ocean again this week for road games at UC Santa Barbara on Thursday and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Saturday.

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Big West Conference
Saturday’s Results
at UC Irvine 91, Cal State Fullerton 61
UC Santa Barbara 87, at Long Beach State 62
at UC Davis 66, Cal Poly 51
at Hawai’I 80, CSUN 75

3 Comments

  1. Holy smokes what a crazy comeback! I didn’t think the would be able to get back in it
    Against a team like that. And to have 2 major players out, the bench has really stepped
    Up!

    Way to go Bows!!

  2. Thanks, Dayton and Wes. What an incredible comeback, fueled by a crowd that wouldn’t settle for anything less. Was fun … one for the memory bank.

  3. What a great game. Down Avea and Da Silva and we still pulled it out despite being down by 17 in the second half. Gutsy game by the Bows.

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