By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Joey Rodriguez scored 17 points to lead four players into double figures as the University of Hawaii at Hilo defeated St. Martin’s University 75-65 on Friday night.
It was the season opener for both teams, and the first night of the four-team PacWest-GNAC men’s basketball series at McCabe Gym in Honolulu. Host Chaminade played Western Oregon in the nightcap.
The Vulcans (1-0) take on Western Oregon at 5 p.m. today, followed by Chaminade against St. Martin’s at 7:30 p.m.
UHH, under first-year coach GE Coleman, led 43-34 at the intermission, then knocked down some clutch free throws down the stretch to earn the victory. The Vulcans made 28 of 34 free throws (82.4 percent) from the line and only turned the ball over seven times compared to St. Martin’s 18 miscues.
“We were able to turn them over 18 times,” Coleman said. “We didn’t play well offensively, but we only turned it over seven times. That helped us overcome them outrebounding us by 14.”
Rodriguez, a junior 6-foot-1 guard out of Cotati, Calif. and Marin Junior College, hit 3 of 7 field goals and 11 of 12 free throws for his game-high 17 points. He also tied teammate Brandon Thomas, a 6-6 returning senior, for team-high honors with four rebounds and stole the basketball three times.
Darnell Williams, a 5-11 junior guard, followed Rodriguez with 14 points while senior Lucas Swanson and junior Jamario Clayton (6 of 6 free throws) each added 10 points in a balanced attack. Senior Derek Owens and junior Jeff Perkins had eight points apiece.
Coleman, who likes to play a fast-paced, high defensive pressure style, played 10 players and nine scored at least a basket.
Ryan Rogers led St. Martin’s with 12 points.
UHH shot 38 percent from the field, 33 percent (5 of 15) from 3-point range and a productive 28 of 34 from the free-throw line. St. Martin’s hit 44 percent from the floor, 33 percent (3 of 9) on treys and 70 percent (14 of 20) from the line.
The Vulcans had 11 steals compared to the Saints’ six steals. St. Martin’s held a 43-29 rebounding advantage.
Coleman, 31, was hired in early July to take over the UHH program from 15-year coach Jeff Law, who stepped down at the end of last season to take the head coaching job at Western New Mexico University.
At the time of his hiring, Coleman was the Central Washington University associate head coach.