Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

UPDATED: Warriors advance to Classic final after shutting down Washington State, 62-51

A longtime Christmas wish finally turned into reality Friday night for the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team, as the Rainbow Warriors shut down Washington State, 62-51, to advance to the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic championship game for the first time in the tournament’s 13-year history.

A vocal and spirited crowd of 3,109 in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center along with a national TV audience on ESPN2 watched Samuta Avea score a game-high 19 points and JoVon McClanahan add 16 points, six rebounds and four assists as UH improved to 8-3 and advanced to Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. title game against Southern Methodist (5-7). TJ Bamba scored 19 points to lead the Cougars, who fell to 5-7.

Noel Coleman contributed 13 points for the Warriors, who were making just their fifth semifinal appearance in the tournament, and first since 2019.

“It’s a pretty special moment, when you put all of that into context,” said Hawai’i coach Eran Ganot, who is in his eighth season here. “And also, (against) a program that we have incredible respect for, to do it against them … You could see the slugfest in the first half, we were fortunate to be able to separate late, but we defended as well as we have all year in a year that we have been defending well.”

After the Warriors took an early 7-4 lead, Kymany Houinsou answered with a three-point play to spark a 14-3 run capped by Adrame Diongue’s bucket-and-one to put Washington State ahead, 18-10, with nine minutes remaining in the first half.

But Kamaka Hepa sank two free throws 23 seconds later, starting a 10-2 surge ending in Avea’s jump hook to tie it at 20-20 with 3:11 left. After Bamba’s 3-pointer from the right wing, McClanahan scored on a pair of pull-up mid-range jumpers to give UH a 24-23 halftime lead.

“I think a lot changed when we were down 18-(10), the look in their eyes, their commitment to each other,” Ganot said. “And I think (backup center) Mor (Seck) gave us a huge lift on the glass when he came in. Maybe it doesn’t always happen in the scoring column, but he gave us a presence.”

Photo courtesy Chris Kadooka

Seck, a 7-foot-1 freshman, did not score but grabbed six rebounds in eight minutes of game time.

The Warriors broke away from a 35-35 tie with 11:41 remaining in the game on Avea’s baseline floater, which ignited an 8-0 run capped by another Avea jumper to make it 43-35 with 9:20 left. Coleman then scored a layup to start a 7-0 surge culminating in McClanahan’s free throws to extend the lead to 55-40 with 2:29 on the clock.

“I think we just preached. ‘Keep making plays,’ ” said McClanahan, a 5-10 junior point guard. “It was one of those things where it was going to be a dogfight, whichever team was going to keep punching was going to come out with the win. I feel like we just kept doing that over the course of the game. We didn’t give up, offensively or defensively.”

Washington State cut it to 55-46 on Jabe Mullins’ jumper with 1:28 remaining, but Beon Riley and McClanahan sank four straight free throws and Riley sealed the victory by draining a 3-pointer with 14 ticks left.

Hawai’i entered the game ranked first in the NCAA for fewest 3-pointers allowed with 45 in 10 games, and the Warriors allowed the Cougars to shoot just 3 for 13 from beyond the arc. Washington State also shot a season-low 30.5 percent overall, and had a season-low two assists.

“They were tough,” Washington State head coach Kyle Smith said of Hawai’i’s defense . “They kept getting physical with us and we weren’t able to power through it.”

Despite already making history, Avea and McClanahan said the Warriors are hungry for more.

“It’s not the mountain top yet,” said Avea, a 6-6 senior wing who is from Hau’ula and is in sixth year with the program. “(This) is a huge win, so excited that our team was able to get to this point, it hasn’t been done before. But I’m excited to really get to the mountain top, and that’s the next game. I’m really excited to get out there and take care of business.”

SMU was the lowest rated team in this year’s field according to the NCAA’s NET rankings, but the Mustangs upset Iona in the first round, then Utah State in the semifinals.

The Diamond Head Classic started in 2009, and Hawai’i’s best previous finish was third place in 2013 and 2015.

The last time a Hawai’i team won an eight-team non-conference tournament was the 2006 Rainbow Classic.

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Friday’s Results

SMU 77, Utah State 74
Hawai’i 62, Washington State 51
Iona 83, Seattle 72
Pepperdine 81, George Washington 70

Sunday’s Games
8:30 a.m. – Seattle vs. George Washington for 7th place
10:30 a.m. – Iona vs. Pepperdine for 5th place
1:30 p.m. – Utah State vs. Washington State for 3rd place
3:30 p.m. – Hawai’i vs. SMU for championship

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