Trailing by as many as 14 in the second half against perennial powerhouse ‘Iolani in Division I boys basketball, the St. Francis Saints were a shot or two away from making the state tournament.
St. Francis cut the deficit to two in the final four minutes and had three shots to either tie or take the lead. Then they had four different 3-point looks on the same offensive possession to cut the lead to one in the final minute.
None of them went in and the end result was a 52-47 loss to the host Raiders to see the season come to an end.
‘Iolani (9-7) goes on to the state tournament as the third team from the ILH. The league put three teams into the big dance for the first time since 2012 because the two-time defending Division II state champion Saints decided to move up to Division I this season.
‘Iolani coach Dean Shimamoto had high praise for St. Francis after his group barely survived against the Saints, who proved all season they belonged in D-I.
“St. Francis has probably two of the best guards in the state. Super hyper-skilled and they can hit shots from anywhere. You can never count them out,” Shimamoto said. “They brought another dimension to the league. They made the league tremendously tougher. There was no rest any night.”
After finishing .500 in league play at 6-6, the Saints survived two elimination games, including a 57-46 win over the same ‘Iolani team on Monday to force Wednesday’s tiebreaker for the state berth.
Ranked No. 6 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, they will be the highest-ranked Division I squad not to make the state tournament.
“It was a good (season). We were short on guys this year but we played really good basketball at the end of the season,” senior Kameron Ng said. “It’s too bad we couldn’t get to the state tournament but life goes on … The sun comes up tomorrow and it will be a good day tomorrow.”
Ng, who scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter of Monday’s win, had 15 of his 22 in the second half on Wednesday.
He swished back-to-back 3’s in the span of 39 seconds to cut ‘Iolani’s lead to 47-45 with 4:16 remaining.
He had three chances to either tie or give St. Francis the lead but lost the ball going up once and had two other shots not go in.
‘Iolani senior Kawika Lee converted both ends of a 1-and-1 around an Ng layup and St. Francis missed four looks at a 3-pointer down four in the final minute.
‘Iolani finally secured the rebound with 1.8 seconds remaining and Lee made his fifth free throw in a row before intentionally missing the last one.
“They schemed better this game and had two guys on me every time I had the ball,” Ng said. “I was expecting that but I just didn’t hit the shots tonight.”
‘Iolani shot 4-for-28 from 3-point range in Monday’s loss and rebounded hitting eight of its first 10 looks from distance.
Lee and Sam Wheeler combined for seven 3-pointers and 29 points in the first half and Noah Bumanglag’s layup as time expired gave ‘Iolani a 36-22 lead at the break.
Ng, who scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half, converted a 3-point play with the Saints down 14 and Titus Liu nailed his third 3-pointer of the game to cut the deficit to 10 after three quarters.
Kordel Ng, who finished with 15 points, three assists, three steals and two blocks, scored on a steal and layup to cut the ‘Iolani lead to 45-39 and then draw a key charge on Lee that set up Kameron Ng’s back-to-back 3’s, forcing ‘Iolani to call timeout.
The Raiders then got stops on five of the final six St. Francis possessions to close it out.
“We’re playing our best basketball at the right time but that first half just put us in a hole,” St. Francis coach Ron Durant said. “We were down 14 and came out not with our heads down. (‘Iolani) was hitting shots with our hands in their face. I didn’t think it was a lack of defense.”
Wheeler finished with 16 points and combined with Lee for 40 of ‘Iolani’s 52 points.
“We were playing our tempo and our type of game and saw the 3’s start to fall,” Shimamoto said. “When we get into that mode we can be really tough.”