Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

UPDATED: Warriors fall to Cal State Fullerton in OT, 62-60

HENDERSON, Nev. — In this cool desert air just outside of Las Vegas, everything dries up quickly. Except for teardrops.

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

Cal State Fullerton stubbornly and abruptly ended the Hawai’i men’s basketball season here Thursday afternoon with a heartbreaking 62-60 overtime victory in the Hercules Tires Big West Conference quarterfinals. Latrell Wrightsell Jr. scored the go-ahead basket with 1:11 remaining and the Warriors missed a chance to tie the game on free throws with 3.4 seconds left in OT. 

A mostly partisan and vocal Hawai’i crowd of about 1,000 at the Dollar Loan Center Arena watched the Warriors’ season likely end at 22-11, while the Titans (19-12) advanced to Friday’s semifinal game vs. UC Irvine (23-10). 

After the game, UH athletic director David Matlin and head coach Eran Ganot told WarriorInsider they will meet soon to discuss postseason options, if the Warriors do not receive an at-large National Invitational Tournament bid as expected. Ganot said Hawai’i has received invitations to play in smaller postseason tournaments during his eight-years at the helm, but has yet to accept.

“It’s a decision made with a lot of people, and we go from there,” Ganot said. “We’re postseason-worthy … but this (loss) is sudden. So it’s hard to answer right now.”

Indeed, words were hard to come by in the postgame press conference, but the teardrops were not. Senior co-captains Samuta Avea and Kamaka Hepa were too emotional to talk about game details, almost blindsided by the abrupt end to their college careers.

“Not easy to make a comment after that one, (it’s) an emotional locker room as you can imagine,” Ganot said. “We’ve got the greatest kids in the world, who once again — this is our 33rd game — our guys fought their tails off, played hard. I know it’s easy to say, hard to do, but (they should) keep their heads up because they gave us everything they had, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

The game itself — the third meeting between the two teams this season, and the second to go into overtime — was a roller coaster ride of emotions.

The Warriors jumped out to a 9-1 lead in the game’s first four minutes and were ahead, 28-27, at halftime. UH produced only two field goals in the final 6:30 of regulation after taking a 50-49 lead on Avea’s layup, allowing Cal State Fullerton to push ahead, 56-51, on Wrightsell’s free throw with 55 seconds remaining.

JoVon McClanahan then cut it to 56-53 on a mid-range turnaround jumper eight seconds later, and the Warriors regained possession after a shot clock violation with 12 ticks left. After the ball went out of bounds with four seconds on the clock, Hawai’i got the ball to Noel Coleman, who pump-faked to shake a defender and then drained a 3-pointer from about four feet beyond the top of the arc as the regulation horn sounded — sending the game into overtime and the hundreds of Warriors fans into a loud frenzy.

The momentum seemed to spill into OT, as McClanahan sank two free throws and then a jumper from the right elbow to push UH ahead, 60-57, just 30 seconds in. But just as quickly, the Titans’ defense tightened and that would be it for the Warriors’ offense.

Jones swished a 3-pointer from the right corner to tie it at 60-60 with 2:54 remaining, and then Wrightsell drained the go-ahead floater with 1:11 left.

Photo courtesy Brandon Flores

McClanahan was fouled on a drive to the basket with 3.4 seconds remaining, but his first free throw attempt was short and glanced off the front of the rim. He missed the second shot on purpose, again off the front of the rim, but Wrightsell secured the rebound and held on as time elapsed.

“Congratulations to our guys,” Cal State Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor said. “I mean, we had every reason and every excuse in the book to lose that game, because of what we have gone through. These guys are resilient, and defense wins games. I thought our offense sputtered a little bit, credit to Hawai’i, but I think we needed to knock off the rust a little bit. Defensively, for this group to turn those guys over 18 times, I think is really, really impressive. And to turn the ball over only four times, conversely on the other side, I thought is a credit to this group.”   

Ganot said that 18-to-four turnover margin ultimately was the game’s key factor.

“The common theme is our offense never made the jump we needed to,” Ganot said. “In three games against Fullerton, we turned it over 18 times a game, including with the factor that they turned it over four times (today) — that was the big difference.”

Ganot added the Titans’ suffocating on-ball pressure, combined with Hawai’i’s struggles with ball movement, was crucial in keeping Cal State Fullerton within striking distance.

“Credit their defense, they’ve been right there with us as one of the better teams defensively,” Ganot said. “I thought we did a good job early in the game, when we had success moving the ball. We did not move the ball well this year, and at critical junctures (today), we didn’t move the ball well. They did a good job switching, and we wanted to go inside like we did early in the game … I thought it started when we were up five (46-41) and we could have separated, but we started to do that (struggle with ball movement) again, and that gave them some confidence.

“Give them credit. (And it’s) work for us to do in this offseason.” 

Avea closed out his career with a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds, Coleman added 14 points and seven boards, and McClanahan contributed 12 points, five assists and three rebounds. Hepa ended his career with seven points and a game-high 12 boards.

Max Jones led the Titans with 18 points and added six rebounds, Wrightsell finished with 14 points and 10 boards, and Tory San Antonio contributed 11 points and five rebounds.

More than 25 minutes after the game ended, a teary-eyed Avea was still processing the loss and declined to comment about it during the post-game press conference.

“All due respect, I really didn’t want to answer questions about the game, it’s a really hard time to deal with,” said Avea, a sixth-year senior from Hau’ula and Kahuku High School. “But something the coaches taught me is, never turn down an opportunity to say thank you, so I just wanted to be here and sit here and say thank you before moving on from this program. It’s family for life, to anyone I’ve crossed paths with, it’s been the same — family. So just … thank you. Everybody.”

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Big West Conference Tournament
Thursday’s Quarterfinal Results

No. 1 UC Irvine 75, No. 8 CSU Bakersfield 51
No. 4 Cal State Fullerton 62, No. 5 Hawai’i 60, OT
No. 2 UC Santa Barbara 64, No. 10 Cal Poly 54
No. 3 UC Riverside 68, No. 6 UC Davis 52

Friday’s Semifinals
No. 1 UC Irvine vs. No. 4 Cal State Fullerton, 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time
No. 2 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 3 UC Riverside, 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time

1 Comment

  1. Good write up about the game and the other info.

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