Defending the hill: Lunas edge Mules for 1st win

The 2017-18 Lahainaluna Lunas are the defending Maui Interscholastic League champions. Photo courtesy of Jason Justus.

Pretty basketball is high scoring much of the time.

The Lahainaluna Lunas aren’t always pretty. In fact, with a 31-30 win over Leilehua on Friday afternoon at the James Alegre Invitational, they were more than happy to embrace winning ugly — specially against a talented Mules team led by Liam Fitzgerald, who had little room to operate and managed to score 16 points.

“If we shot the ball better, it would be better. We’re shooting 36 percent over the tournament,” Lunas coach Jason Justus said. “And 30 percent from 2s.”

Still, what the Lunas did — limiting Leilehua to one point after the first quarter and just seven points by halftime — is quintessential Justus basketball. It’s the kind of Lunas ball that has made the program the team to beat in the MIL, and a state title contender the past two seasons under Justus, the returning Star-Advertiser coach of the year.

The Lunas lost to Kalaheo 47-38 and Moanalua 48-45 earlier in the tournament. They will play host Radford today at 3:30.

“We got our first win. That’s a good thing. They deserve it. They worked very, very well, and they defended well. We got more deflections today than we have in the past. We’re not where we’re supposed to be, but I look at us as a car that’s trying to get started, and it’s taking us a little bit to turn over (the engine) and we’ll get going,” Justus said.

Carter Stockham led the Lunas with nine points and Isaiah Tanner added six.

Lahainaluna is in transition mode after losing key seniors to graduation.

“The biggest thing is our effort. Effort and heart are pretty much defense. If we don’t have those, it’s hard to compete, and that’s the biggest thing. Their effort has increased in the third day now so we’re getting better. Hopefully, tomorrow we see even more improvement,” Justus said. “The game is simple. It’s the team that has the least amount of mistakes, and hopefully we can get rid of some of the mistakes.”

Justus had a lot of concern about Fitzgerald, a 6-foot-6 guard. He scored six points in a row to help rally the Mules from a 21-10 deficit to within striking distance in the final minutes.

“We played our normal man, but he can go off and have 20 in a blink of an eye. He’s such a tremendous athlete being that big and controlling the basketball. Having a 6-6 guy who can jump out of the gym and shoot like that. Their point guard (Tashaun Wright) is such a great playmaker. He gets everybody involved. He’s the type of guy you can tell he’s the one who’s going to make that extra pass, an all-around good playmaker for them. I have a feeling he’s going to do a lot of good things for them.”

It was possibly a precursor to a rematch in the state tourney, two established programs with new contributors and some work to do.

“They’re coming out of the game as well, you’re going to see a lot of good things from them. Such a well-coached team,” Justus said.

The MIL has been Lahainaluna’s battle ground for success, but the Lunas are well aware of changes around the league. Playing at the Surfrider Holiday Classic, Maui lost to ‘Iolani and beat Waianae.

“Maui’s very scrappy. I think Baldwin got new coaches and a new system. We’ve got Kamehameha-Maui, a bunch of young coaches. We don’t have any veterans now,” Justus said.

That might make Justus the unofficial dean of boys basketball coaches in the MIL.

“I don’t know about that,” he said.

Hayward (Calif.) 69, Radford 37
Oliver Hamilton III scored 13 points, Josh Chambers had 12 and Teddy Kautz added 10 for Hayward. Elhadji Kone led the Rams with 14.

Punahou 75, Kalaheo 47
The unbeaten Buffanblu roared to a 24-4 lead after one quarter with their patented fastbreak attack and fullcourt pressure. Jakob Kimura led the way with 14 points and Andrew Kobayashi added 13. Cole Arceneaux was an early sparkplug on both ends and finished with 11 points as Coach Darren Matsuda played his entire roster early.

Andrew Kearney led the Mustangs with 19 points.

Farrington 63, Saint Louis 61
Ehzikiel Santiago scored 15 points and Felcris Ahadain tallied 14 as the Governors edged the Crusaders. Noa Purcell led Saint Louis with 23 points and 6-7 junior Lachlan Hanneman added 13.

Moanalua 64, Honokaa 28
Isaiah Sugiura scored 13 points to lead a balanced Na Menehune attack.

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