Most leagues in Hawaii, at least in boys basketball, are fairly predictable.
Occasionally, there’s some seismic activity, but the expectation is well formed in advance. In the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, where iron always sharpens iron, there is no mercy for the weak, no pity for the punchless. And No. 1 Punahou seemed to contradict everything known about the gauntlet.
Until tonight. With a stunning 49-48 win over the Buffanblu in their house, No. 4 Maryknoll not only broke the spell, the Spartans were borderline pulverizing. The lead was up to 47-36 at one point, in total, a 37-17 roll by the visitors.
Had Punahou won, the top of the ILH standings would have looked like this:
Punahou would’ve been sitting nicely atop the standings with a nice cushion, just two wins away from clinching at least a tie for the regular-season title — and an automatic state-tournament berth. Instead, Maryknoll became the Buffanblu’s kryptonite. The upper tier of the standings now looks like this:
After being nearly perfect through 22 nonconference and league games, the Buffanblu now have something tangible to work on at practice. Even after struggling — 6-for-22 from the field in the second half — they still almost rallied for a win. But the atmosphere on Thursday night was odd, to say the least.
Rewind the tape, all the way back to the opening tip. No, go before that, to pre-game introductions. Maryknoll’s starting lineup is announced. The Spartan faithful who trekked through some treacherous winds cheered in unison. Hearty.
Punahou? When the attention turned to Punahou, there was a smattering of applause. It was the sound of casual indifference. There were probably 300 fans in Hemmeter Fieldhouse, but not many students, and no alumni band. The vibe was beyond casual. It was polite, which is much appreciated.
But a home court this certainly was not. Not tonight.
The Buffanblu played with fervor defensively anyway. Kaulana Makaula was on fire with eight first-quarter points, including a straightaway 3 as the home team opened a 19-10 lead. Makaula was everywhere. He had three rebounds and a block by the end of the quarter.
He didn’t score another point all night. In fact, though he had three assists (and two rebounds) the rest of the way, it’s almost as if first-quarter Makaula hadn’t happened. Which is too bad, because as the night wore on, Maryknoll’s defense did all it could to put a straitjacket on Punahou’s leading scorer, Zayne Chong, who still managed to score 13 points.
It was defense that set the foundation for the Spartans. The relentless drives to the bucket by Jaylen Cain were pivotal. Resounding stuff for Maryknoll. The shooting and passing of Isiah Gelacio were timely in the third quarter. Makoto Kamata scored 10 points, including five during the big run.
But it was about defense. Jordyn Perez’s cat-quick pick on Cole Arceneaux led to a wing 3 by Kamata. A few seconds later, Perez picked another Buffanblu and raced in for a layup at the buzzer. Instead of trailing 31-23 at the half, it was a three-point game. Even before the Spartans followed through with a dominant third quarter, the wheels were spinning.
“That was huge. That gave us some momentum going into the second half, and we had that run in the third quarter,” Spartans coach Kelly Grant said.
Spartan fans who had seen their beloved team lose to St. Francis, Tesoro (Calif.) and Punahou in consecutive games two weeks ago. That made everything about this game almost magical.
>> Cain, the 6-foot-3 senior, became a wrecking ball. Too quick for bigger defenders. Too strong for thinner ones.
>> Reserve center Riden Leong scored four much-needed points in the second quarter.
>> Marcus Tobin had, maybe, the most clutch game of his young career. He had six points of his team-high 12 points in that third stanza, but it was his two blocks on a pair of layup tries by Chong that triggered the fastbreak.
That was quite a sight: the 6-7 junior protecting the rim, then exploding out into the lanes to race downcourt. It was Tobin’s baseline drive that opened the lead to 47-36 late in the third. Punahou, 17-0 against local schools coming into the game, had the look of a champion boxer up against the ropes.
Of course, the Buffanblu scored the next 12 points to regain the lead, 48-47. Arceneaux started the run with a steal and a layup, then splashed a wing 3. Then came a 3 by Hunter Hosoda as he and Arceneaux delivered perfect dishes to each other, and after Duke Clemens scored twice inside, Punahou was back on top.
But they weren’t quite in control. The delay game that Maryknoll used while up 11 seemed to take effect right then and there. After Kamata’s baseline drive for a bucket bumped the Spartans ahead 49-48, the last 3-plus minutes were punctuated by missed shots, including 0-for-3 by the Spartans at the foul line.
The final piece of the puzzle wasn’t Punahou missing three shots in the final 12 or so seconds, though the Spartans were wise in making automatic switches against Punahou’s weave offense. It wasn’t even this mad statistic: 21-for-33 from the field (64 percent) by Maryknoll.
The immeasurable final twist was Payton Grant, Maryknoll’s 6-3 jack-of-all-trades, running the point efficiently, driving hard to the bucket. More than just a defensive Swiss knife, his offensive versatility was maximized in the Spartans’ biggest win to date this season.
“Their guards were taking away Jordyn, Isiah and Makoto,” the coach’s son explained.
He also closed out on Arceneaux’s last-second 25-foot shoot from the top.
“It was a good win. We fought hard. Now we’ve got to finish strong,” he said.
With that, the Spartans had already begun the hike back to campus. Though the schools are across the street from each other, Hemmeter Fieldhouse is on the mauka side of Punahou’s campus. That makes it roughly a half-mile walk home.
“I’m tired,” said Grant, the junior. “I’m out of breath.”