For the first game of the season, it was the second effort that boosted the Hawaii basketball team to an 82-64 victory over Portland in Friday’s opening round of the 54th Rainbow Classic.
A Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 3,291 saw the Rainbow Warriors hold the Pilots to four field goals in the second half.
The Pilots scored 10 points in a row to tie it at 34 with 33 seconds left in the first half. Two possessions later, Brocke Stepteau — one of two UH point guards to start the game — drove the lane and fed Zigmars Raimo, who scored the go-ahead layup as time expired in the first half.
During the intermission, UH coach Eran Ganot did an ID check.
“That’s not who we are, that’s the first thing I said,” Ganot recalled of his halftime speech. “I don’t know that team. I didn’t recognize that group.”
Forward Jack Purchase said Ganot implored the ’Bows to play static-cling defense.
“We knew on offense, we could get any shot we wanted,” Purchase said. “We had to lock in on defense and try to stop their shooters.”
On the first possession of the second half, Portland appeared to get an open look … and then threw away the pass. The Pilots were not able to take a shot in their next four possessions.
Stepteau, a 5-foot-9 senior, hit a floater over a defender to give the ’Bows a 38-34 lead. Then Purchase buried a 3 from the right wing to make it 41-34.
Soon after, Raimo connected on a baby hook. When Purchase hit a pause-and-release shot, the Warriors were ahead 45-34 with 17:06 to play.
“The next 10 minutes (after the halftime break), there was separation because the identity of our team showed itself in terms of defending again and supporting each other.,” Ganot said.
It took the Pilots 3 minutes, 39 seconds to make their first basket of the second half. Their next field goal came with 9:23 to play.
“We didn’t execute that well,” Portland coach Terry Porter said. “We did a good job in the first half of fighting back and getting involved. The first five possessions of the second half, we turned the ball over. You go on the road and play a team like Hawaii, you have really have to take care of the ball. We turned the ball over, let them get easy shots.
“They got the momentum rolling. It really hurt us.”
The Pilots committed 14 turnovers and, after the intermission, missed 11 of 15 shots, including misfiring on six of seven from beyond the 3-point arc.
Hawaii, meanwhile, assisted on 22 of their 31 baskets. Drew Buggs led the way with seven assists. The ’Bows turned over the ball nine times — two fewer than their goal for each game.
Hawaii used 12 players, with five scoring in double digits, led by Raimo’s 17. Purchase, who usually fires away from the wings, often rotated to the high post on Friday.
Purchase said the new spot enabled him to make use of his passing skills and, if open, to launch jumpers. Three of his six field goals were launched inside the arc, with two coming after he hesitated.
Samuta Avea produced 10 in a reserve role. In a breathtaking sequence, the 6-foot-7 Avea blocked 6-9 Tahirou Diabate. Avea then raced downcourt, took a feed from Stepteau, and soared for a dunk.
“I was doing my job,” Avea said.
Eddie Stansberry, a highly regarded transfer from City College of San Francisco, and Stepteau each drained four 3-pointers.
The only vulnerability was Portland’s late attack, in which they repeatedly drove the lane to induce fouls. The Pilots made 25 of 34 free throws, including 21 of 28 in the second half. The ’Bows hit nine of 14 free throws.
“We defend and rebound first,” Ganot said. “If we don’t, we’re never going to be as good as we want to be. Hopefully that message became clear to them.”
North Texas 93, Humboldt State 48
In the first game, Umoja Gibson scored 27 points, hitting all six of his 3-point attempts, to power the Mean Green past the Lumberjacks.
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