The Owls of Mid-Pacific are guided by former ‘Iolani all-state guard Ryan Hirata. The Owls look like they have a full roster. Two weeks ago, they missed three key players during the Surfrider Holiday Classic.
The Lions of Fairfax are a perennial CIF powerhouse. They’re led by guard Donald Gipson, a Loyola Marymount signee, and 6-8 center Babacar Thiombare (Army).
Antoine Monroe’s corner 3 opens the lead to 5-0. MPI turns the ball over against the press, and Monroe swishes another corner 3 after the dead ball.
MPI gets its first points on a corner 3 by Logan Hutchinson. Owls sticking with a 2-3 zone. Fairfax in halfcourt man when they’re not pressing. They’re wearing really bright yellow uniforms.
Hutchinson layup cuts it to 8-5. Steal by Major Davis leads to a fastbreak dish from Zion Shepherd to Daniel Florenco for a 3. Davis hits a corner 3 and the Owls lead 11-8 with less than 3 minutes left in the quarter. Rising Owls. Fans are jacked up. Time out, MPI, 2:37.
How long can the Owls stay with the Lions? Hutchinson is 6-foot-4 and Zion Shepherd is 6-3. They’ve got experience in the backcourt. They’re playing without any fear — not common for a Hawaii team. They’re coached by Hirata, who was a standout guard at ‘Iolani when they nearly upset nationally-ranked Montrose Christian (Md.), losing only on a last-second 3 by Taishi Ito. (Yes, I remember that vividly. Think the score was 43-41.)
Shepherd, son of former UH standout Tim Shepherd, attacks the rim and scores to increase the lead to 13-10. Quarter ends with the Owls up 3.
Isaiah Bowers, a 5-10 senior, hits two treys in a row to give the Lions a 16-13 lead. They’re trapping out of the halfcourt man now and the Owls are having problems. Hirata calls time out with 6:11 to go.
Owls have gone cold from the arc. Thiombane, however, might be warming up. He is unchallenged on his first offensive board and scores easily. FAIRFAX 18, MPI 13.
This is when the Owls miss 6-4 Justin Daise (injury) most. He’s probably one of the most hard-nosed post players in the state.
Thiombane throws a crosscourt pass into the third row, but he then steals a perimeter pass and scores on a layup. Lions lead 22-13. That’s a 12-0 run in this quarter.
Owls beat the halfcourt double team and Shepherd drives uncontested to the hoop for a reverse layup. That was strange. Thiobane was nowhere in the picture. 22-16.
Jamal Hartwell slices the top to swish a 15-foot runner, but Hutchinson buries a corner 3 to bring the Owls within 24-19. Then Hartwell rattles in a wing 3.
Owls still facing immense pressure from Fairfax’s fullcourt pressure. They’re breaking it most of the time, but the Lions recover well. Owls not getting any easy shots up. Lions lead 48-29 entering the fourth.
Steal and layup for Hartwell, who has played well. Hits the foul shot, FAX leads 53-30.
Here’s what I can tell from three-plus quarters of seeing the Lions.
1. They’re deep. Not exceedingly tall or talented off the bench, but they’ve got scrappy role players and they come into the game ready to play great defense and hustle. They’ve gone at least 10 deep in this game.
2. Harvey Kitani is the Yoda of this tournament when it comes to coaches. He’s been fairly quiet all night and only raised one question to officials earlier in this fourth quarter on a foul call. He picks his spots well, always has.
3. The Lions don’t have a singular, hero-ball type player. Even back in the years of the Shipp brothers, they moved the ball well and were patient against zones. Same tonight.
Isaiah Browning drives for a great layup, draws the foul as Owl fans roar. FAX leads 55-32 with 6 minutes left. I’ve run out of battery and/or memory space in all my devices. That’s what I get for forgetting my camera adaptor. Browning’s bucket would’ve been classic on video. Somebody here probably has it. I see three people with cameras and tripods. No, it’s four. And only one of them is wearing Fairfax Lions red.
4. The Lions aren’t messing around. They’re up 58-32 in the final minutes and the starting 5 is back on the court. They’re not in a flow of crisp passing and knock-down threes. But they’re playing good defense. They’re unselfish.
5. The Owls are playing well. Not well enough to win this game, obviously, but Hirata and his staff are extracting good effort and execution from their team. I’m not talking about a sloppy pass here and there. I mean, their stuff. Their system. Their defensive cohesiveness. Closing out on shooters. Boxing out. They’re doing enough of everything to make a game of it, or at least for two to three quarters against a much taller, more athletic and skilled program.
6. I didn’t see the first-day games, but it’s probably safe to say that the winners in that group are stronger as a whole than today’s winners. I didn’t see any team today that went full-throttle like that old Yates (Texas) team some years back. And there isn’t a team as stacked as an Oak Hill (pick a year). And there isn’t a future No. 1 pick like Montrose Christian’s Kevin Durant. But all those factors make this a potentially wide-open field. We may be in for a whole lot of close games starting tomorrow.