For nearly four quarters, Kamehameha hung tight with national powerhouse Long Island Lutheran (Brookeville, N.Y.)
In the end, the 1-2 combo of 6-foot-8 Zed Key and point guard Andre Curbelo was enough for the visiting Crusaders to escape with a 63-57 win over the Warriors in opening-round action of the ‘Iolani Prep Classic.
Key, a commit to Ohio State, was a tower of strength, but faced resistance from Kamehameha’s bigs and finished with a modest 13 points. He was, however, extremely persistent, continually attacking the rim despite a rough night at the foul line: 1-for-11. Curbelo led the way with 16 points, and Drissa Traore tallied 12.
Christmas Togiai poured in a game-high 27 points to lead Kamehameha. Preston Ponteras added 11, including three treys. Kordel Ng started with a bang, but finished with six points. Kamehameha dropped to 9-2 overall, but the vibe was upbeat after nearly upsetting one of the nation’s top programs.
“Our boys competed so hard. Knocked down some shots. They’re just a great bunch of boys. They play for each other and we got a bunch of buckets early that gave them some confidence,” Warriors coach Larry Park said.
Long Island Lutheran entered the Classic ranked No. 9 in the USA Today Super 25. Kamehameha, one of the top teams in the islands, was three days removed from a close loss to Maryknoll in the final of the Kaimuki Invitational.
“Give credit to our opponent. They played so hard. No. 15 (Togiai), especially, was tremendous. He was great. No fear,” Crusaders coach John Buck said. “Played with incredible heart and passion. Their coach does a great job with their team. That was an awesome contest.”
Stopping Key will be a monumental task for any of the teams in this year’s Classic, which includes No. 14 Oak Hill and No. 15 Wasatch Academy.
“When he wants to assert his will, my job is try to get him to do that consistently so he can achieve his full potential,” Buck said of Key.
“They were tough to guard,” Park noted. “No. 11 (Curbelo) handles the ball really well. We didn’t get as many turnovers as we would like, probably. They’re both really good. 21 (Key) in the post, he was a big man to handle.”
Curbelo was persistent on both ends. In one flurry, he retreated to cover Ng, who had stolen the ball. Normally, Ng finishes with a flush or lay-in, but Curbelo rose up and blocked the shot at rim level, leaving an excitable crowd stunned.
“Special player. Does things I could never coach,” Buck added.
Kamehameha opened the game aggressively. Ng threw down a slam dunk and Togiai worked inside for a traditional three-point play as the Warriors opened a 7-2 lead. They were up 11-8 after one quarter.
It was no fluke. Despite a sticky 2-2-1 press and tight man coverage in halfcourt, the Crusaders couldn’t stifle Kamehameha. Ponteras stroked a pull-up 3 from the top in transition, and Paliku Kamaka splashed a wing 3 to give Kamehameha its biggest lead, 19-12, in the second quarter.
Long Island Lutheran consistently worked the ball to Key, and despite taking the lead late in the second quarter, fell behind at the half. Ng’s steal and layup at the buzzer gave Kamehameha a 27-26 lead at intermission.
Every push by the Crusaders to pull away was met by a clutch shot, often by Ponteras. His corner 3 on a feed from Ng brought the Warriors within 37-36 with less than 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
Ponteras scored on a double-pump putback in traffic, then swished another 3 to get Kamehameha within 42-39, but Key exerted his will despite strong defense by Bailey Lee. Key picked up a charging foul during one stretch, but was mostly unstoppable unless the Warriors fouled him. His putback opened the lead to 44-39 as the third stanza closed.
With Curbelo slashing effectively to the rack, Long Island Lutheran began to edge away, opening the lead to seven. Togiai answered with a 3, and then a drive for a potential three-point play in the lane. His free throw tied it at 53 with 3:11 left.
From there, the visitors took command. They scored the next six points and led 60-54 with 36 seconds to play.
They couldn’t quite breathe easy yet, but the Crusaders advanced to the quarterfinal round. They will meet the Kaiser-Garfield (Seattle, Wash.) winner on Thursday, 3:30 p.m. Kamehameha will meet the loser on Thursday, 12:30 p.m.
The long flight. The time zones. The weather difference. Coach Buck is hoping for a stronger performance next time.
“We missed a ton of free throws, you know, and we didn’t rebound the ball a third of what we need to. But give them credit, (Kamehameha) was great,” he said.
The Crusaders will take a nice breather on Wednesday,
“You come to a tournament like this, it’s already a lot to travel, so you can’t bring them out too much,” Buck said. “We’re going to try and do a little bit maybe later in the week. Tomorrow, some study hall and some preparation for a real tough opponent on Thursday.”