Allan Silva doesn’t have to go back very far to recall the last time he’s seen a special moment or two on the basketball hardwood.
The Saint Louis coach was at Farrington just a few seasons ago when the Governors made a big splash, going deep into the postseason. They went from Division II champions to OIA D-I champions, and reached the state final before falling to ‘Iolani in 2014.
In year three at Saint Louis, Silva’s Crusaders have hardly had an impeccable season with a 2-9 mark in league play and 11-15 overall. When it mattered most, however, Saint Louis rose to the challenge with a 63-57 upset win over No. 4 Maryknoll on the Spartans’ home court.
Maryknoll had been steamrolling for a half, shooting 9-for-12 from the field during a 25-point second quarter.
However, with a 1-2-2 zone that extended out to nearly halfcourt, Saint Louis turned a nine-point halftime deficit into a one-point lead late in the third quarter. From there, what had been a fast-paced shootout turned into a battle of wills. And nerves.
“That’s three games in a row we’ve had bad third quarters,” veteran coach Kelly Grant of Maryknoll said.
The normally sure-handed and deadly accurate Spartans committed nine of their 14 turnovers in the second half. That’s nine giveaways and just six field goals — 6-for-25 from the field — after intermission.
For the game, Maryknoll shot 6-for-24 from the arc and 15-for-27 in the 2-point area. Yet, the Spartans were content to launch from deep against that 1-2-2, a defense that Silva had not shown until this very night.
“We were saving it,” the wily veteran said.
For Jaymason Nunuha, a senior guard who has come quite close to qualifying for the state tourney before, it was a night to remember. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Noa Purcell came up big with 11 of his 18 points after halftime. It was also a major plus for the Crusaders when reserve Jalen Smith, the 6-5 junior who was a key part of Kalaheo’s state-championship team as a freshman, attacked the rim successfully against Maryknoll. So did Noah Browne and freshman Keawe Silva, in addition to Purcell and Nunuha.
Nunuha was a sophomore when Saint Louis was one win away from qualifying for the big dance in 2015. His older brother, Jimmy Nunuha III, was an integral part of that team, an outstanding floor general and defensive stopper. But the older Nunuha broke his wrist while trying to dunk before the playoff game and Saint Louis lost.
Now the Crusaders find themselves one win away again. ‘Iolani, the defending state champion, is technically the league’s second-place team during the regular season after beating Maryknoll (43-42) and losing to Punahou in a tiebreaker series in the past week.
Playing that extra game may have sapped some of the energy from Maryknoll, a team heavy with underclassmen, while Saint Louis rested up and had more practice time to prepare for these playoffs.
In any event, Saint Louis meets an ‘Iolani squad that had tonight off, a bye as a consequence of being the second-place team. Kamehameha advanced by eliminating Mid-Pacific 50-44 tonight.
On Thursday, an ‘Iolani win over Saint Louis coupled with a Punahou victory over Kamehameha would guarantee a state-tourney berth for the Raiders.
If ‘Iolani beats Saint Louis and Kamehameha upsets Punahou, that second berth would still be up in the air.
And if Saint Louis pulls off a second upset win in as many nights — and Punahou eliminates Kamehameha — Saint Louis would finish no lower than second place in the tourney. Then the Crusaders would need a win in the tourney final to secure that state berth.
If Saint Louis upsets ‘Iolani, and then loses to Punahou, there would be an extra playoff game between regular-season runner-up ‘Iolani and tourney runner-up Saint Louis. But if Kamehameha knocks off Punahou on Thursday and Saint Louis wins against ‘Iolani, the Kamehameha-Saint Louis winner would claim the tourney title and that second state berth.
Confused? It’s OK. All that matters right now is that Saint Louis and Kamehameha have survived and advanced.
There will always be some clamoring for more ILH entries into the state tourney. As it is, the state’s lone private-school league sends just two representatives into the 12-team field. Which means, if fans haven’t been taking in the amazing madness of tiebreaker games and playoff games, they’re missing some of the best basketball statewide. It’s the Gauntlet of ILH athletics, with an intensity level and electric atmosphere on par with — and sometimes beyond — state-tournament games.
Maryknoll’s preseason was crystalline. Twelve wins in its first 12 games. Grant’s team beat two mainland teams by 34 and 15 points, then went 2-2 in a California tourney. Then the Spartans went 8-2 in league play and finished in a three-way tie for first. Punahou drew the bye, and Maryknoll led ‘Iolani 23-13 at the half on Monday before losing 43-42.
Two nights later, the Spartans are now eliminated. The season is over. In the ILH’s playoff dance, teams play at state-tourney quality or get zapped. It is, as always, brutally beautiful and painful. The pendulum never stops swinging in ILH sports. Teams that evolve have often done so because of the pain of previous failures. And the teams that enjoy early success sometimes don’t evolve much more.
“We got our shots off, but our defense was porous, taking chances on stealing passes,” Grant noted. “It’s has to be five guys playing defense. When you have a lot of success early, you lose total concentration. You lose your edge.”