By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The University of Hawaii at Hilo men’s basketball team was hungry for a win and had to beat a champion on Saturday night to get one.
The NCAA Division II Vulcans (2-8) then went out and clobbered Champion Baptist University 116-54 before about 400 fans at the UHH Gym.
It was a mismatch from the opening tip as the bigger, taller and more talented Vulcans dominated the hustling Tigers (3-15), an independent collegiate team from Hot Springs, Ark. that plays a schedule filled with various level NCAA and NAIA schools as well as community colleges.
But regardless of the opponent, it was a much-needed victory and game for coach Jeff Law’s D-II squad that returns to Pacific West Conference action Thursday while hosting Notre Dame de Namur.
“We needed a win and we needed to get a game under our belt before starting back up conference,” Law said. “We only had three days practice and needed to get the rust off before playing Notre Dame de Namur. I thought we did a lot of good things tonight, especially on offense.
“We had a size advantage and used it. We also shared the ball a lot better tonight than we usually do. We had 21 assists, and it’s been a long time since we’ve had 21 assists in a game. Hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Despite playing with only eight players, the Vulcans sprinted to a 60-25 halftime lead and never were challenged by CBU.
Mychael Hearn, a 6-foot-1 senior, poured in a career-high 29 points for UHH, including three dunks. He made 13 of 20 field goals, including 1 of 3 treys, and 2 of 3 free throws on his way to a memorable evening.
Michael Melonas, a 6-6 senior power forward, followed the high-rising Hearn with 26 points and bearhugged a game-high 13 rebounds. He hit 12 of 21 field goals, including a fastbreak dunk, and went 2 for 2 from the free-throw line.
The burly Melonas also had four assists and three steals in 25 productive minutes.
Kiel Myers, a 6-6 senior forward, had 18 points and 12 rebounds as the Vulcans’ two tallest players — Myers and Melonas — dominated the backboards. UHH outrebounded CBU 48-26.
Myers also handed out three assists to go along with a blocked shot and two steals.
Junior point guard Derek Owens had 14 points while senior guard CJ Brown added 13 points, six rebounds and a game-high five assists in 28 turnover-less minutes.
“The guys played hard to get some of the good things done tonight,” Law said. “They brought enough energy and focus to get the lead and keep it where it was throughout the game. We could have done a better job defensively, but we’ll watch the game film and go over those things to get ready for Notre Dame de Namur.
“Notre Dame de Namur is a tough out, they’re better than they were last year. It’s not going to be easy. They have Honokaa’s Micah Dunhour and a big guy that’s pretty good. We’re going to have to play well against them (to get a win).”
Junior Brandon Likins, a 6-7 forward, led CBU with 17 points. But he struggled from the field, making only 7 of 25 field goals, including 1 of 10 on 3-pointers. Senior guard Mo Capaci followed with 11 points.
“We showed more of the things we can do tonight as a team,” Law said. “We want to build on this and keep improving in conference play.”
The Vulcans shot 59 percent (46 of 78) from the field, 44 percent (8 of 18) from 3-point range and 89 percent (16 of 18) from the free-throw line — all highs for a complete game this season. CBU hit 35 percent (21 of 60) from the floor, 21 percent (5 of 24) on treys and 58 percent (7 of 12) from the line.
UHH also had 48 rebounds, 21 assists, 13 turnovers, 3 blocked shots and 11 steals compared to the Tigers’ 26, 9, 25, 1 and 5, respectively.
Both teams were slowed at times by the slippery floor, a problem that has affected play in a handful of games during December when it rains and a thin mist blows in onto the court.
“The floor has to be addressed,” Law said. “Both teams have to play on it, but for whatever reason, we’ve had a problem almost every game. It seems like it helps when they shut the doors.”
Vulcan notes: The UHH men’s and women’s basketball teams return to conference play on Thursday when they host Notre Dame de Namur at UHH Gym. The women play at 5 p.m. and the men at 7:30 p.m. … UHH unveiled its two brand new scoreboards and shotclocks at Saturday’s game, purchased by First Hawaiian Bank. The impressive new equipment looks great and worked well as UHH battled CBU. … Law announced that sophomore Robert Looper (from Newhall, Calif.) has quit the team for personal reasons and will not return … Junior Brandon Thomas missed Saturday’s game while remaining in Seattle to be with his daughter who had a medical situation. Law said the situation has worked out and Thomas will return in the next day or so.
At UHH Gym
CBC 25 29 — 54
UHH 60 56 — 116