By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The struggling University of Hawaii at Hilo men’s basketball team is hoping to finish December on a high note before returning to conference play in January.
The Vulcans (1-7 overall, 0-2 PacWest Conference) host St. Edward’s University (8-6) at 3 p.m. today in an NCAA Division II game at the UHH Gym. The Hilltoppers from Austin, Texas, won their first two games earlier this week in the Oahu Classic in Honolulu, beating 10th-ranked Northwestern Missouri 59-50 and Harding University 69-66. They played their final game against Oneonta State on Tuesday night.
“They’re an athletic team, a dangerous team,” UHH head coach Jeff Law said. “They shoot the 3-pointer really well and it will be a tough game for us.”
The Vulcans are coming off a disappointing 98-64 loss to visiting Urbana University last Friday at the Keaau High Gym. UHH had 31 turnovers and was dominated on the boards by the hustling visitors.
Law said his team played poorly and didn’t give the type of effort it needed to compete against a talented Urbana squad.
“We’re going to have to play much better and with a lot more effort if we’re going to have a chance against St. Edward’s,” the UHH coach said.
The Hilltoppers, under head coach Andre Cook, play in the 10-school Heartland Conference. They are led in scoring by 6-foot-7 senior Shimeek Johnson (16.4 points per game), 6-5 junior James Stukes (10.2) and 6-2 senior Jeff Campbell (8.4). Campbell drained a 3-pointer with :06 left to beat Harding University on Monday.
Both Johnson (31 of 94 treys, 33 percent) and Campbell (24 of 77 treys, 31 percent) shoot the 3-pointer well, and that strategy is a key part of St. Edward’s offensive attack. The Hilltoppers average 71 points per game.
UHH is led in scoring by senior guard CJ Brown, who is averaging 13.3 points and a team-high 2.5 assists per game. He’s also shooting a team-high 85 percent (41 of 48) from the free-throw line and 39 percent (11 of 28) from 3-point range.
Senior forward Kiel Myers follows at 10.5 ppg while seniors Mychael Hearn and Michael Melonas contribute 10.1 and 9.4, respectively. Senior guard Paul Batausa is averaging 6.5 and shooting 40 percent (10 of 25) on treys to go along with 2.3 assists per contest.
Junior Brandon Thomas, a 6-6 forward, averages 6.6 points and a team-high 4.9 rebounds per game.
As a team, the Vulcans are averaging 67.0 points while allowing 77.0 to their opponents. UHH is also shooting 41 percent from the field, 30 percent on treys and 68 percent from the free-throw line. The Vuls also average 37.8 rebounds per game compared to their opponents’ 37.8.
UHH averages 9.8 assists per game, led by Brown and Batausa.
Following today’s game against St. Edward’s, the Vulcans host Champion Baptist College (3-10) on Dec. 29 to close out 2012. The teams play at 7:30 p.m. that evening at the UHH Gym.
Champion Baptist, an independent collegiate team from Hot Springs, Ark., also plays Hawaii Pacific University on Dec. 31 to cap its two-game Hawaii swing. (In an earlier game this year, Harding University beat Champion Baptist 92-58.)
The Vulcans return to PacWest action on Jan. 3, hosting Notre Dame de Namur at 7:30 p.m. at the UHH Gym. At 5 p.m., the Lady Vuls take on the Argonauts in the preliminary game.
St. Edward’s at UHH, 3 p.m.
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