Defense, kill shots and titles: Punahou

There was more than the usual fanfare at Hemmeter Fieldhouse on Friday night.

Yes, the ILH boys basketball tourney title was at stake, and Punahou eked out a 48-46 win over ‘Iolani.

Punahou had a 37-23 lead and nearly shot itself out of a win with forced or tough shots. In a state with no shot clock — there are only six nationwide that use it — even Punahou’s home crowd was on edge. When J.B. Kam let fly a corner 3 — with the Buffanblu precariously clinging to a small lead — fans behind the Punahou bench let out a collective “No!” Their no’s turned to cheers when Micah Ma‘a soared for a mid-air putback.

That’s just about the only drawback for the one team that’s probably going to be the top seed in the upcoming state tourney. They just don’t kill the clock as well as, say… ‘Iolani. or Farrington.

“That’s not really our style,” Punahou guard Jordan Tanuvasa said. “We just weren’t all on the same page and that’s on me. I’ve got to let them know.”

Punahou coach Darren Matsuda is riding his seniors, a stellar group that came in with Matsuda as freshmen.

“What we’ve ridden all year is our defense and that’s what got us the win today,” he said.

The only time in the final minutes that Punahou didn’t contest ‘Iolani’s shooters, Robby Mann hit a clutch 3 and Pikai Winchester missed an open corner 3 at the buzzer.

Even when Kam had to leave the game with foul trouble, there was no dropoff defensively. Ma‘a, at 6-4 with major hops, moved over to cover ‘Iolani’s Hugh Hogland, who finished with two points.

Punahou’s length and athleticism give Matsuda a lot of versatility.

“We started doing that (switching on screens) in the second half,” he said. “Micah and (Akahi) Trosky and Kanawai (Noa) play a lot bigger than they are. And they’re athletic. Jordan and Dayson controlled the game pretty nice. That’s veteran leadership right there.”

That defensive mindset helped big time in the midst of change.

“They (‘Iolani) came out with a new offense and we only had one practice to get ready for it,” Matsuda said, noting ‘Iolani’s win over Maryknoll in the ILH tourney semifinals.

Punahou shot 19-for-44 from the field, a 43-percent clip. It was hot shooting in the first half (13-for-24) and cold shooting in the second (6-for-20) that told the tale against a tough ‘Iolani defense. Punahou had just six turnovers to ‘Iolani’s 12, which helped negate a 24-16 edge for the visiting Raiders on the boards.

‘Iolani shot 50 percent from the field (18-for-36), but four turnovers in the final quarter played a big role in slowing what was a riveting comeback attempt.

The X factor, though, may have been the length and athleticism of Ma‘a, who blocked a 10-footer by Robby Mann in the final second. Ma‘a got a piece of the turnaround shot, with the ball ricocheting off the side of the backboard and out of bounds with 1.7 seconds left.

“It was a blur. Robby got the ball, and he went up and I went up. I was afraid of a pump fake, but I got a hand on it,” said Ma‘a, an elite volleyball all-state player. “The main message (from Matsuda) was to settle down and take good shots. We decided that we wanted to take good shots.”

The loud and often spastic crowd of about 1,200 at Hemmeter Fieldhouse made it an electric vibe.

“It was a great game, no matter who won,” Matsuda said. “It was a great atmosphere and I’m proud of our crowd.”


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