By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Seniors CJ Brown, Michael Melonas and Paul Batausa combined for 57 points to lead the University of Hawaii at Hilo to an 89-80 win over Western Oregon in the teams’ season openers on Friday night.
The preseason men’s NCAA Division II basketball game is part of the four-team PacWest/GNAC Challenge Series being played in Monmouth, Ore. In the earlier contest, Chaminade University topped St. Martin’s 89-82.
It was an impressive performance for the Jeff Law-coached Vulcans, who overcame a 36-26 halftime deficit to outscore the hosts 63-44 in the final 20 minutes to earn the victory.
“It was nice to get a win after going back east and playing the two Division I teams,” Law said. “We struggled a little at first tonight. Western Oregon had a lot of energy and got into us defensively. We didn’t shoot very well and had nine turnovers, so we were lucky to only be down by 10 at the half.
“But our guys responded in the second half. We started to hit some shots and relax. We got our legs going and it was a really nice team effort.”
The Vulcans (1-0) showed Law exactly what he expects this season: “We’re not going to rely on one or two guys this year,” he said. “We need five or six guys to step up and we need everybody to contribute in a lot of different ways. That’s going to be our M.O.”
Brown, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Sacramento, Calif., hit 6 of 9 field goals, including 3 of 6 3-pointers, and 9 of 10 free throws for a career-high 24 points.
Melonas, a 6-6 power forward, made 8 of 11 field goals and 2 of 5 free throws for 18 points. He also had nine rebounds.
Batausa, a 5-8 senior guard, hit 3 of 7 field goals, including a trey, and 8 of 11 free throws for 15 points. Melonas and Batausa played together at Ventura Community College in California before transferring to UHH last year.
Juniors Derek Owens and Lucas Swanson added 12 and 11 points, respectively, as five UHH players scored in double figures. Owens and Swanson, both 6-2 guards, were teammates at highly successful Clarke College in Vancouver, Wash. last year before transferring to Hilo for their final two seasons.
Law also got a solid effort from Brandon Thomas, a 6-6 junior forward from Lakewood, Wash., on Friday night. He led UHH with a game-high 11 rebounds and chipped in with seven points.
Freshman Andy Avgi led Western Oregon (0-1) with 20 points and Rodney Webster added 11.
UHH shot 45 percent (22 of 49) from the field, 32 percent (6 of 19) on 3-pointers and 75 percent (39 of 52) from the free-throw line. Western Oregon hit 47 percent (30 of 64) from the floor, 32 percent (7 of 22) on treys and 81 percent (13 of 16) from the line.
The Vulcans also had 35 rebounds, 8 assists, 12 turnovers, 1 blocked shot and four steals compared to the host’s 34, 14, 15, 2 and 4, respectively.
The Vulcans will play St. Martin’s University (0-1) at 12:30 p.m. today while Chaminade (1-0) battles host Western Oregon.
Following today’s game against St. Martin’s, the Vulcans return home and host the Naniloa Volcanoes Thanksgiving Tournament, Nov. 19-21 at the UHH Gym.
UHH plays Maryville University at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 in its opener. In the preliminary game, Montana State Billings takes on Western New Mexico University.
On Nov. 20, it’s Maryville vs. Western New Mexico at 5 p.m., followed by UHH vs. Montana State Billings at 7:30 p.m.
The tournament concludes on Nov. 21 with Montana State Billings vs. Maryville at 5 p.m. and UHH vs. Western New Mexico at 7:30 p.m.
At Monmouth, Ore.
UHH 26 63 — 89
WOU 36 44 — 80