Once again, the St. Francis Saints took aim and did all it could to slay Goliath.
Once again, the tiny school in Manoa Valley fell short. Just a wee bit short.
Kaulana Makaula provided the offensive spark with 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter as No. 1 Punahou outlasted No. 5 St. Francis 74-66 in the final of the St. Francis Holiday Hoops Classic on Thursday night. Punahou improved to 12-1 overall and won’t be on the floor again until next week’s Punahou Invitational, a 16-team tourney. Division II St. Francis (13-2) will also be in the tourney, along with No. 3 Maryknoll, Mid-Pacific, Damien and Kamehameha II of the ILH, and No. 10 Kamehameha-Hawaii and Hilo of the BIIF.
Zayne Chong added 17 points, including 6-for-8 shooting at the free-throw line in the final quarter. Punahou’s size and depth proved to be key factors against the smaller Saints. By the third quarter, the bumps and bruises collected for St. Francis, which was outscored 17-9. Punahou, which went back and forth with the lead in the first half, limited exposing scorer Kameron Ng to just two points in the pivotal third quarter.
Ng finished with a game-high 29 points, but that stretch of rough, tough man-to-man defense by the visiting Buffanblu proved too much to overcome for the Saints. Kordell Ng added 20 points, and Bubba Akana scored eight off the bench. Kameron Ng, looking to draw contact, didn’t get many calls as the Buffanblu played like alpha dogs.
Tamatoa Falatea was a crucial factor off the Punahou bench. He hit two 3-pointers in the second quarter to bring Punahou back from a seven-point deficit. In the second half, he took over Cole Arceneaux’s assignment and guarded Kameron Ng.
Without any attempt to establish a low-post game, St. Francis was dependent on dribble-drive points. On the final play of the third quarter, Falatea shoved a screener on the high post toward the shooter, Kameron Ng, and no foul was called. That’s when the home crowd became quite testy. Moments later, another physical play on the other end of the court, and Falatea was called for a foul, but the crowd responded when he appeared to step over a fallen Saints player.
Falatea, to his credit, doesn’t mind doing whatever it takes to play physical, tough defense. He has become Punahou’s 3-and-D guy.
“This year, Tama’s a really good defensive player and shoots the ball, and he makes a lot of things happen,” Punahou coach Darren Matsuda said. “That’s definitely his role for us (as a defensive stopper). His defense is great. His defense last night and tonight is great.”
St. Francis brought the lead down to 71-66 after a 3 by Kameron Ng — the identical score to the Saints’ loss to Kamehameha. However, Punahou finished with solid free-throw shooting to close the game out.
“One thing I really like about our team is we’re versatile. We have some pounders, some finesse guys, some fast guys and it’s about mixing it together,” Matsuda said.
After going 3-1 in their mainland tournament, Punahou has evolved.
“We played a lot of much taller teams. We had to learn to press more fundamentally instead of just relying on athleticism. The tall teams helped us prepare for Kahuku, having a high quality big,” Matsuda said. Punahou edged Kahuku 50-48 in the semifinal round, overcoming 6-foot-10 Tolu Smith.
“Smith is really good. He’s got the whole package, a good defensive player, has good post moves and can face up,” Matsuda said.
Falatea has been patiently anticipating every opportunity to help his team on both ends. His focus on Kameron Ng was more balanced than specific.
“Definitely his jump shot. You’ve got to take that away, but play his drive, too,” Falatea said. “My shot is just a confidence factor. I was just waiting for my chance. I just do what I’ve got to do. I’m just playing the game, having fun.”
Through their ups and downs, coming close to winning a state championship as a younger team, the Buffanblu seem to have unified even more since returning from California.
“Having Tama come off the bench like he did, that second half he took (Ng) a little more. Kam is probably the best guard I’ve had to guard,” Arceneaux said. “We’re like brothers off the court. We were texting each other all day. We got into it on the court, that little scuffle, but off the court, we’re still boys.”
Facing a Saints 2-3 zone, the Buffanblu still ran and got layups, but they went 12 deep rather than 15.
“Everyone’s got a different skill set,” said Arceneaux, who has his spring and explosiveness back after rehabbing from a knee injury last year. “Everyone on this team from the seniors to the juniors to the sophomores.”