“Dead in the water.”
That was Kalaheo coach Alika Smith’s description of the Mustangs’ plight facing an 11-point deficit with 3:35 left in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s OIA East boys basketball game against No. 4 Kahuku.
But top-ranked Kalaheo still had hope — and Kaleb Gilmore.
For much of the first half and into the second, Kalaheo tried to shoot over Kahuku’s zone. Gilmore attacked the defense late in the game to set up teammates for scores and his quickness on defense helped spur the Mustangs to a 10-2 run to force overtime. Gilmore then scored eight points in the extra period in Kalaheo’s 62-56 victory.
“It’s just good to get a win against a top team, that’s proven itself to be a top team,” Gilmore said. “And I know we’ll see them again in the playoffs. I already know.”
Kalaheo struggled defensively in the first half as 6-foot-7 Kahuku forward Denhym Brooke repeatedly found open lanes to the basket for layups in scoring 16 points in the first 16 minutes while 6-6 center Hyrum Harris cleaned up on the boards.
Even when Kalaheo picked up the intensity on defense in the second half and pressured the Red Raiders into turnovers, the Mustangs were one-and-done on offense for much of the third quarter and managed to trim just one point off of Kahuku’s eight-point halftime lead.
The fourth quarter started in much the same manner and Kahuku opened up a 46-35 cushion with less than four minutes separating the Red Raiders from a 2-0 start to the regular season with wins over two of the division’s favorites in Farrington and Kalaheo.
Even after a layup by Alec MacLeod and a 3-pointer by Captain Whitlock — right in front of his father, former University of Hawaii sharpshooter Tes Whitlock — Kahuku still led by eight with 2:43 left when the Red Raiders broke the press and Brooke scored on an uncontested layup. The Red Raiders held a 50-44 lead with 1:52 remained after draining two free throws.
Gilmore then penetrated and dished to Kupaa Harrison for a layup, came up with a steal and took in an open-court layup to bring Kalaheo to within two. Harrison then swiped Kalaheo’s 12th steal of the second half and Gilmore was fouled with 37.4 seconds left and made both free throws to tie.
“I know when I penetrate my teammates will be open and they’ll hit the shot,” Gilmore said. “I have faith in them 100 percent.”
Both teams had opportunities to take the lead, but Kahuku missed the front end of a one-and-one and MacLeod had a tough reverse layup with a second left roll off the rim to force overtime.
Even so, momentum was squarely with Kalaheo and Harrison, who’d struggled with his shot for much of the night, drained a mid-range jumper and Gilmore came up with steals on Kahuku’s next two possessions and pushed the lead to five.
Gilmore went 5-for-6 from the line in the final minute to finish with 22 points as Kalaheo protected its home court.
Kahuku was without starting point guard Alohi Gilman, who was away on a football trip coach Alan Akina said, and Kalaheo focused on forcing the ball away from the Red Raiders’ primary ball handlers. While the Mustangs pressured Kahuku up top, Smith said they backed off of Brooke — who ended the night with 23 points — to take away the driving lanes he’d exploited in the first half.
Smith highlighted Kekai Smith’s effort on Samuta Avea and freshman Jalen Smith’s work in denying Harris the ball in the post in the third quarter.
“We were out of our normal rotation but their pressure was really good and we couldn’t handle it,” Akina said.
Kahuku has another tough assignment on Friday when the Red Raiders make the drive into town to face Roosevelt. With a big swing win secured, Kalaheo will take on Castle on Friday.
“We’ve got a long way to go, a lot of good teams to play,” Smith said. “So we’ll see how it pans out.”