Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

UPDATED: Warriors shoot past St. Francis (Pa.), 90-66

Twenty days shy of New Year’s Eve, the Hawai’i and visiting St. Francis (Pa.) men’s basketball teams set off some offensive fireworks Sunday evening, trading explosive shots blow-for-blow for much of the game before the Warriors pulled away for a 90-66 victory.

A sparse-but-awe-struck crowd of 2,143 in SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center watched Kamaka Hepa notch career-highs of 30 points and 14 rebounds and Samuta Avea add 18 points as the Warriors snapped a two-game losing streak and overcame a jaw-dropping 40-point performance by Red Flash center Josh Cohen to improve to 6-3. St. Francis fell to 3-8.

In UH’s previous home game against Texas A&M-Commerce on Nov. 30, the Warriors lost, 53-51. By contrast on Sunday, Hawai’i led 37-36 at halftime. Both teams shot at least 50 percent from the field in the first half, led by Cohen (10 for 12, 21 points) and Hepa (8 for 12, 19 points).

“I think the offense was clicking in both halves, maybe even better in the second half … (but) the first half was very disappointing (defensively),” UH coach Eran Ganot said. “Give (St. Francis) credit, (but) our foundation is defend and rebound. And we didn’t do either in the first half. In the second half, what happens? We continue with the offense, we held them under 40 (percent) from the field, we held them under 30 percent from the 3(-point region), and we’re plus-10 on the boards. That’s why you can have that separation.”

For much of the game — and from the outset — all eyes were on the spectacular show put on by Cohen and Hepa. Cohen, listed at 6-foot-10 and 220 pounds, appeared to play much bigger and stronger than that as he dominated the paint area with layups, jump hooks and fadeaways that somehow found their way into the basket.

The Stan Sheriff Center opened in 1994, and Cohen is just the fourth opposing player to score 40 or more points against Hawai’i since then. The previous opponent to do it was Cal State Fullerton’s Kyle Allman in 2018. The record for most points by an opposing player in the SSC is 41 by Cal State Fullerton’s Josh Akognon in 2008.

“(Cohen) seemed a little bit bigger, and I think he does a really good job of using angles, and he has a really great touch,” said Hepa, who is 6-10 and 215. “So a combination of that makes him a tough cover, for sure. He’s a skilled player. Making him shoot a jump hook from like 10 feet out, 13 feet out, I felt like it was good defense. But then I turn back and see it go right through the net, and it’s like, ‘OK, next play.’ It’s definitely tough, but I can’t really be too frustrated for too long, because we have to back down the court and score the ball, too.”  

To the fans’ delight, the Warriors did that well. Cohen scored his 29th and 30th points on a pair of free throws to close it to 52-48 with 13:35 remaining in the game, but Hepa drained a couple of 3-pointers to highlight a 16-4 run that increased the lead to 68-52 five minutes later. Cohen answered with a traditional three-point play and then Brad McCabe swished a 3-pointer to cut it to 68-58 with 7:48 left, but Beon Riley made a layup to spark an 11-0 run capped by Avea’s 3-pointer to push the lead to 79-58 with 4:50 showing on the clock. The Red Flash could not get closer than 18 points the rest of the way.

Avea scored 17 of his 18 points after halftime, including a spectacular one-handed alley-oop dunk off JoVon McClanahan’s lob from the 3-point arc on the opposite wing.

“I knew I had to just get going and be aggressive and do whatever I could to make some plays and get some momentum going,” Avea said. “Our last home game here was not the showing we wanted at all, so we were definitely really fired up to get back and defend home court.”

Riley, a sophomore reserve wing, had his second consecutive career-best game for Hawai’i. He finished with career-highs of 13 points and nine rebounds in 21-plus minutes, after previously recording 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench in last Wednesday’s loss to UNLV in Henderson, Nev. 

Backup point guard Justus Jackson contributed 10 points, three boards and two assists in 18-plus minutes. 

“Beon continues to impress, he gives us a huge lift off the bench, with his energy, activity, physicality, effort,” Ganot said. “Same with Justus, what a lift off the bench. Kamaka has been really good, (but) put it to another level tonight. Happy for him, he’s gonna have nights like that. And obviously Samuta. I’m pleased with the loose balls that we were diving on in the second half. It was a very unique game, because we had an inside presence annihilate us.

“But I think that will help us, moving forward.”

Hawai’i’s next game is scheduled for December 22, when it hosts Pepperdine on the opening day of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

CLICK HERE to view boxscore

CLICK HERE to view more photos

Leave a Response

Login or fill in the fields below to comment. (New user? Register)