Moanalua came really, really close to knocking off Kahuku on Wednesday night.
Na Menehune led by nine points at one point before the Red Raiders — feared as a legitimate state-title contender — whittled away that advantage and took over for a 49-48 win in the first round of the boys basketball state tournament at Moanalua’s gym.
It would have ranked as a huge upset if Na Menehune (8-8) prevailed over the Red Raiders (13-2).
Had Kahuku’s Keanu Akina not hit a free throw with 11.5 seconds left for a 49-45 lead, then a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Moanalua’s Karson Kruz would have tied it.
“It was way too close for comfort,” Kahuku coach Alan Akina said. “They (figuratively) punched us in the mouth in the first half. But our boys are fighters and they competed all the way to the end.
“Anything can happen in the playoffs. It was scary for us to come in as a higher seed and play them in their own gym.”
With the win, Kahuku moves on to play Konawaena, the tournament’s fourth seed, Thursday night in the quarterfinals at Moanalua.
“We don’t know much about them,” coach Akina said. “But our scouting reports will be done later tonight. We will be ready for what we expect to be a battle against good players who play the game year-round.”
Foul trouble for starters Tamamoko Green, Hyrum Harris and Denhym Brooke — the crew from New Zealand who sat for good chunks of time in the second quarter — took the Red Raiders out of their rhythm.
“We stepped it up on defense and became more aggressive in the second half,” Akina said.
Kyrie McRaven had a whale of a game for Moanalua, with 20 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots.
“He’s been like that all year,” Moanalua coach Byron Mello said. “He is, in my mind, the best player in the state.”
Mello thought his team played great.
“I’m extremely disappointed because I felt like we played well enough to win the game,” he said.
He tried to stay away from talking about the officiating, but he couldn’t quite do it.
“The referees didn’t determine the outcome of the game,” he said. “But it seemed like they were trying to equal things out rather than call the game the way it is.”
Kruz and James Wilkins added 12 points each for Na Menehune.
Akina, Kahuku’s shooting guard and the coach’s son, hit four of his 11 3-point attempts and most of them were in crucial situations. He finished with 14 points.
Mello talked about the younger Akina.
“He is a terrific shooter, and he shoots with courage. He’ll have guys on him, and he still has the confidence to step back and hit the shot.”
The Red Raiders’ Samuta Avea, a quarterback on the football team, scored 10 points with four steals and two blocked shots.
As for Na Menehune, aside from consolation games, their season is over.
“We played great in certain games and did not in other games,” Mello said. “Maybe that’s inexperience and youth and maybe next year some of the older kids will take it upon themselves to impress on the younger kids that they need to play all out every game. What I love about them is the whole bunch goes out there and competes.”