In a game of giants, Reggie Eiland knew his place: right in the thick of traffic.
The 5-foot-10 senior came up with a key defensive play down the stretch as No. 2 Maryknoll closed the game with a 7-3 run for a 44-40 win over No. 5 Damien on Thursday night at Bishop Scanlan Gymnasium.
The game was 40-39, in favor of the visiting Spartans, when Damien’s 6-5 Tino Atonio went to the low post to work on a potential go-ahead bucket. Instead, the bounce pass from Jake Holtz was poked away just slightly by Eiland, who dove on the ball in a scramble. The jump ball gave Maryknoll the ball with 1:11 left.
Shortly after, 7-foot sophomore Sage Tolentino finger-tipped a 3-point shot by Holtz, another huge defensive play for the defending state champions. Tolentino has been on a warpath of sorts lately, commanding with authority as he patrols the paint. He finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and a whopping eight blocked shots. He also finished with four personal fouls, but his effectiveness on defense is further evidence that the semi-conservative pace deployed by Spartans coach Kelly Grant is the right fit.
No. 2 Maryknoll 44, No. 5 Damien 40, final.
Liko Soares 14/7. Sage Tolentino 10/8 with 8 blocks, Justin Yap 10 for @MaryknollSports. Tino Atonio 14/8, Jake Holtz 11/6 for @DamienMemorial. Tolentino key block on Holtz to preserve 3-point lead. @HawaiiPrepWorld pic.twitter.com/AdkviTopBo
— Paul Honda (@PupulePaul) January 17, 2020
Liko Soares led Maryknoll with 14 points and added seven boards. Freshman Justin Yap scored 10 points, including a clutch 3 to give Maryknoll a 40-39 lead with 2:02 left. Niko Robben finished with eight points, five rebounds, a block and a steal.
Damien’s grit showed most in the fourth quarter as coach Alvin Stephenson’s team went to a 2-1-2 halfcourt press. The Monarchs dove all over the floor to tip passes and create turnovers. That sparked a 13-6 run that gave Damien a 39-37 lead with 3:02 left.
Atonio scored nine of his team-high 14 points in the final quarter. Holtz had 11 points and six boards, and Bryce Forbes finished with eight points and 11 rebounds. After grabbing six offensive rebounds in the first half, Maryknoll walled off the bucket area and limited the springy 6-7 senior to one offensive carom after intermission.
“They’re a defensive nightmare because they’re so long,” Grant said. “They’ve got Hayden (Bayudan) at point guard and he’s hard to defend.”
Maryknoll used Tolentino in the middle of a 1-3-1 zone at times, and also used a 1-2-2 along with man-to-man defense.
“I switched my defensive matchups 15 times since yesterday trying to figure out what was our best matchup. Even during the course of the game, we were trying to figure out how to guard Holtz, how to guard Forbes, how to guard Hayden. Even Tino, last year he was a role player, now he’s making big shots,” Grant said. “That’s a formidable team.”
While Maryknoll stayed in close range of first-place Kamehameha by improving to 5-1 in the ILH, Damien dropped to 1-4. It looks more and more like the Monarchs will need to gain momentum and push their way into the state tourney when the second-round playoff tournament tips off in a few weeks. There are three state-tourney berths available, including an automatic spot for the first-place finisher when the regular season ends.
“We just got to be able to build off each game and keep our composure, which I feel they did today,” Stephenson said. “They played really good as a team for the first time in a long time. We’re excited for the next few games.”
Maryknoll will host surging Saint Louis on Saturday. Damien will entertain ‘Iolani, also on Saturday.