By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
For two years, University of Hawaii at Hilo seniors Lucas Swanson and Derek Owens haven’t seen much team success, but that never stopped either one of them from ever giving it their best every time they stepped on the basketball court.
On Monday night, Swanson poured in a career-high 27 points and Owens had 20 points and six assists to help lead the Vulcans to an 87-69 win over Notre Dame de Namur at the UHH Gym.
About 200 diehard fans watched the Pacific West Conference game in which the Vulcans shot a blistering 67 percent (20 of 30) from the field in the first half to go along 5 of 12 3-pointers and 5 of 6 free throws. And it appeared from the tip-off that fired-up UHH (5-19 overall, 2-16 PacWest) found itself in an offensive shooting zone — burning the visiting Argonauts (7-18, 6-13) from almost every spot on the floor while recording a remarkable 17 assists to only four turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
Owens, a 6-foot-2 point guard out of Tempe, Ariz., scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half, including drilling 3 of 4 treys to spark the Vulcans’ smooth-running offense. He finished the night by making 8 of 10 field goals and 4 of 5 treys. He also had 6 assists, only 1 turnover, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in playing all 40 minutes.
Swanson, a 6-2 guard from Vancouver, Wash. and former Owens’ teammate in junior college, sank 11 of 18 field goals, including 3 of 7 treys, and 2 of 2 free throws for his game-high 27 points. He also had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in a solid all-around performance.
But on this particular evening when the Vulcans played one of their best games in PacWest play, Owens and Swanson had a lot of help.
Junior guard Joey Rodriguez followed Owens with 13 points and had 10 assists for a double-double. He also added 5 rebounds, a block and 2 steals.
Juniors Darnell Williams and Dominique Campbell each notched eight points. Senior Brandon Thomas chipped in with 6 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals in a productive 23 minutes.
The Argonauts struggled to contain UHH in the first half. But they started strong after the intermission, sparked by a two-handed dunk from 6-6 Don Washington and a 15-foot jumper from Steven Plantenburg to pulle to within 50-30.
However, Swanson answered with a mid-range jumper and a line-drive trey, and Campbell added a power move to stretch the Vulcans’ lead to 57-32 with 17:17 remaining in the contest.
NDNU finally trimmed the UHH lead to 68-54 on Simon Enciso’s 3-pointer at the 9:40 mark. But that would be as close as the visitors would get the rest of the way. Each time the Argonauts tried to ignite a scoring run, Swanson, Rodriguez or Owens would answer with a key basket or free throw.
Washington and Enciso each scored 16 points to lead NDNU. Zach Ginter, a 6-6 junior, followed with nine points.
The Vulcans finished with a season-high 28 assists and only 12 turnovers, including the four in the opening half.
“Our guards do a nice job of penetrating and then finding the open man when the defense collapses,” first-year UHH head coach GE Coleman said. “The 28 assists might be a school record. But it was great to see us moving the ball so well — and tonight, we knocked down some shots.”
The Vulcans shot 58 percent (34 of 59) from the field, 40 percent (8 of 20) on 3-pointers, and 69 percent (11 of 16) on free throws. The Argonauts hit 52 percent (26 of 50) from the floor, 33 percent (4 of 12) on treys, and 62 percent (13 of 21) from the line.
UHH also had 27 rebounds, 2 assists and 13 steals compared to NDNU’s 28, 2 and 3, respectively. The visitors, under veteran head coach George Puou, a former Kailua High School on Oahu standout, also had 16 assists and a not-so-friendly 18 turnovers.
Coleman said he was pleased with his team’s performance, but also hoped the solid win would add confidence to his players as they close out the PacWest season.
“Hopefully this is something we can build on,” the UHH coach said. “We want to focus on getting better every day and going forward in the right direction.
“This season is not so much about the wins and losses, it’s about building the program the right way for the future.”
And all season, Owens and Swanson have helped lead the Vulcans by example. On Monday night, their hard work paid off with UHH winning its second straight PacWest game after opening the conference season with 16 straight losses.
With only two games remaining in the regular season, Coleman & Co. would like nothing better than finishing the season with four straight victories.
The UHH men’s and women’s teams close their regular season with home games against Fresno Pacific on Thursday night and Hawaii Pacific University on Saturday. The women play at 5 p.m., followed by the men at 7:30 p.m.
Note: A NDNU official said Micah Dunhour, a former Honokaa and Academy of the Pacific star, is no longer with the school’s basketball team. The 6-6 junior guard was one of the Argonauts’ top scorers through most of the season.
At UHH Gym
NDNU 26 43 — 69
UHH 50 37 — 87