Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Warriors rally past UC Irvine on Senior Night, 72-67

“Senior Night” for the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball program is always special, but this one was more than most. 

Photo courtesy Matt Osumi

Two senior starters with extra strong local roots playing their final home game … in front of a jet engine-loud sellout crowd of 8.248, mostly dressed in white … on display for a national TV audience on ESPN2. And — oh, by the way — a thrilling down-to-the-wire comeback victory over an arch rival and first-place team.

A better script would be tough to write. 

Junior point guard JoVon McClanahan scored a career-high 27 points with seven assists and freshman center Mor Seck added a career-high 14 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks in his first start to help the Warriors rally past UC Irvine, 72-67, in pulsating roller coaster Big West Conference men’s basketball action. Seck was a last-minute fill-in starter in place of Bernardo da Silva, who suffered a leg injury Thursday and reportedly was unable to walk Saturday morning due to increased swelling.

Senior wing Samuta Avea — a Kahuku High School graduate from Hau’ula — added 10 points, three rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal as UH overcame a six-point deficit in the final eight minutes to improve to 21-9 overall and 12-6 in league play. DJ Davis scored a game-high 27 points and Dawson Baker added 12 points for the Anteaters, who fell to 20-10 and into a three-way tie for first at 13-5.

Photo courtesy Matt Osumi

UH is now tied with Cal State Fullerton (18-12, 12-6) for fourth place, with two regular season games remaining — on the road at CSUN on Thursday and at UC Santa Barbara on Saturday.

The Warriors will be leaving for the trip on Tuesday with the best send-off imaginable.

“It’s indescribable, I can’t even lie — a little bit during the game, it was creeping in, it was like a mixed feeling,” said Avea, who also drained a late 3-pointer to erase Saturday’s deficit for good. “It was like damn, this is the last one, you know. But I’m just so happy we got the job done. And to see all of my favorite people in one place, it’s really special.”   

UC Irvine led 35-33 at halftime, and then later, 59-53, after Baker’s layup with eight minutes remaining, but McClanahan responded with two free throws to ignite a 9-0 run highlighted by Avea’s clutch 3-pointer from beyond the top of the key and capped by Noel Coleman’s driving layup three minutes later to put Hawai’i ahead, 62-59. Davis then tied it at 62-62 with a deep fadeaway 3 from beyond the top of the key with 4:09 left.

But McClanahan gave UH the lead for good with two free throws nine seconds later. After the Warriors went up, 70-64, after Coleman’s two free throws with 39.2 seconds remaining, Davis drained another long 3 from well beyond the top of the arc six ticks later to cut it to 70-67. 

Photo courtesy Chris Kadooka

McClanahan then effectively sealed the victory with two free throws with 10.1 seconds on the clock, as the Anteaters failed to score at the other end, setting off a championship-like celebration.

“Top two — not two,” said senior forward Kamaka Hepa, when asked where to rank Saturday’s atmosphere during and after the game. “It was very special. I mean, there were some plays, I remember when Samuta hit the three to put us up … I’ve never been in a gym that loud.”

Combo guard Juan Munoz, the third senior who was honored along with Avea and Hepa, has missed the entire season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in an exhibition versus UH Hilo on Nov. 3. He also missed all of last season with an injury after transferring from Longwood University, meaning he never played an official game in his Warriors career.

But his work ethic and positive attitude throughout both rehabilitations was inspirational to the team and to fans, who showed their appreciation full force during the Senior Night festivities.

“I can’t even talk right now, this is crazy, I love it here,” said a lei-draped Munoz, who already earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. “The atmosphere, the fans, the crowd is just amazing … It’s just something I can’t explain. Coming here was the best decision I ever made.”

After each senior was introduced, honored with commemorative plaques and given the opportunity to make their final 3-pointer (Munoz) and dunks (Hepa and Avea), they were greeted by family and friends and given lei upon lei, up to their ears. Then about a half-dozen relatives of Avea’s fasmily performed a special haka for them near the free throw line of the home basket.

“That was very special,” Avea said. “Those are my cousins, family, people I’ve known my whole life.”         

Hepa, who grew up in Alaska but is part Native Hawaiian, was clearly touched.

“To this point in my life, I would say this is definitely one of the most memorable nights that I’ve had,” said Hepa, who had 26 relatives in attendance, including his parents visiting from Alaska. “Just having everybody here, I can’t even describe it, there’s no words I can put together to describe how I am feeling right now.”    

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Big West Conference
Saturday’s Results

Cal State Fullerton 70, at CSU Bakersfield 66
UC Davis 58, at Cal Poly 52
Long Beach State 71, at CSUN 64
UC Santa Barbara 87, at UC San Diego 71
at Hawai’i 72, UC Irvine 67

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