The young University of Hawaii at Hilo’s men’s basketball team is quickly showing that if the Vulcans can dictate game tempo and shoot the ball at a solid percentage, they can beat a quality opponent.
On Tuesday night in the second day of the Naniloa Volcanoes Resort’s Basketball Tournament, UHH fought past previously unbeaten Tiffin University of Ohio 93-87 in overtime to prove the point.
In the first game at the UHH Gym, Northern New Mexico upset 18th-ranked Fort Lewis College 94-92 in OT.
The Vulcans (3-2 overall, 1-1 tourney) battle Northern New Mexico (5-3, 1-1) at 7:30 p.m. today in the final round. In the 5 p.m. opener, Fort Lewis College (3-2, 1-1) takes on Tiffin (3-1, 1-1).
The Vulcans, under first-year coach GE Coleman, fell to Fort Lewis College on Monday in a close contest. But on Tuesday, they started strong, led 47-36 at the intermission and then overcame a 78-78 deadlock at the end of regulation to win in OT.
“I thought we showed a lot of character at the end of the game and in overtime as well,” Coleman said. “We gave up an 11-point lead. They put a zone on us and we we’re ineffective to say the least.
“We got punched in the face pretty hard, but in OT we did some pretty great things.”
Senior Lucas Swanson led five UHH players in double figures with a team-high 17 points. He made 5 of 10 field goals, including 2 of 4 treys, and 5 of 6 free throws in his best performance as a Vulcan.
Junior Darnell Williams followed with 13 points. Senior Brandon Thomas and junior Joey Rodriguez each had 12 points and junior Kevin Dancer added 10. But not far back in a balanced attack were senior Derek Owen and junior Yevgeniy Dyachenko with nine points apiece, and junior Dominque Campbell with eight and three important blocked shots.
The Vulcans needed the hot-handed team attack to overcome a 30-point explosion by Tiffin’s Joe Graessle and 21 from Khan Ashton. Graessle was almost unstoppable despite the hustling UHH defense. He hit 12 of 22 field goals, including 4 of 11 3-pointers, and 2 of 3 free throws.
The Vulcans outrebounded the taller Dragons 41-36, with the 6-foot-6 Thomas ripping down a game-high 13. Campbell, who played well defensively, had five rebounds but his solid play in OT helped the hosts pull out the win.
Campbell, a 6-6 forward, hit two clutch free throws in OT and had two blocked shots as UHH held off the Dragons.
“In the OT, Campbell was unbelievable,” Coleman said
Owen and the fearless Rodriguez also played key roles with their ballhandling, scoring and leadership, especially down the stretch and into the extra session when both teams battled on even terms with the game’s outcome still in doubt.
Williams (5 of 9 field goals, 1 trey) also hit some key shots and had a game-high four assists.
The Vulcans shot 46 percent (31 of 68) from the floor, 52 percent (11 of 21) on 3-pointers and 80 percent (20 of 25) from the free-throw line. The Dragons hit 52 percent (35 of 67) from the field, 32 percent (6 of 19) on treys and 61 percent (11 of 18) from the line. UHH also had 15 assists, 20 turnovers, 4 blocked shots and 7 steals compared to Tiffin’s 8, 20, 3 and 8, respectively.
“It’s a good win, the kids played really hard,” Coleman said. “We shot the ball well and dictated the tempo most of the game. When we can do that, we’re pretty tough to stop.”
The 11 treys was a season high and the most 3-pointers by a Vulcan team in the last four or five seasons. Many of the shots were set up by UHH’s spread-and-attack offense with Owen, Rodrigues or Williams penetrating and finding the open shooters.
The Dragons made six treys, but the hot-handed Grassle drained four of them.
TU 36 42 9 — 87
UHH 47 31 15 — 93
In the opener, Matthew Brito scored 25 points and AJ Peralta 18 to lead Northern New Mexico to a 94-92 OT win over Fort Lewis College.
Senior guard Nick Tomsick poured in a game-high 37 points for the Skyhawks, including 6 of 15 treys. JoeBell Austin added 19 points while 6-9 center Alex Herrera had 10 points and 15 rebounds.
NNM 43 36 15 — 94
FLC 37 42 13— 92