In a sense, Maryknoll basketball coach Kelly Grant was encouraged by the frustration simmering in the Spartans locker room after a series of close losses early in the ILH season.
“They didn’t like losing,” Grant said, “and that was nice.
“Going in the locker room, there were a lot of sour faces. … If we lose, our guys are upset and I like guys with passion.”
After dropping four of their first five games of the regular season by a total of six points, the Spartans channeled the angst into greater intensity in practices and rebounded with a win over No. 6 Saint Louis last Saturday. They then handed No. 2 Punahou its first loss in ILH play on Tuesday.
Sophomore guard Justice Sueing powered the Spartans (3-4) on Tuesday with 24 points, 13 coming in the fourth quarter, in Maryknoll’s 55-46 win over the Buffanblu (6-1) at Hemmeter Fieldhouse.
Grant said he typically waits until the second half of the regular season to kick up the intensity in practice, preferring to preserve the Spartans’ energy for the late-season grind. But the coaching staff convinced him to push them harder in practice about a month ago and the team has responded to the change in tempo.
“It’s paid off,” Grant said. “Because of the high intensity practices, the kids are prepared to play.”
Punahou coach Darren Matusda noted the Spartans’ maturity compared to the first meeting between the teams — a 53-52 Buffanblu win on Jan. 10 — and Maryknoll’s top three scorers on Tuesday were underclassmen in Sueing, freshman center Brian Washington (12 points, 10 rebounds) and freshman Sage Pulu (nine points).
Sueing showed off his range in the first half in hitting two 3-pointers, was more aggressive to the basket in the second half and went 9-for-10 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a 6-foot-5 ball handler so he’s hard to defend,” Grant said. “He’s also left-handed and he’s a smart player. When he sees double teams coming he can dribble real quick and if he has an angle to the basket he takes it to the basket.”
While Sueing can get into the lane, Grant also noted his ability to stay under control and thus stay on the court for longer stretches.
“I really felt at the beginning the season he had to make some adjustments to how he attacks the basket, because he was getting a lot of offensive fouls,” Grant said. “He had one today but he was getting three or four a game. So he’s done a really good job of adjusting what he’s doing on the floor.”
At Hemmeter Fieldhouse
Maryknoll (3-4) 10 15 11 19 — 55
Punahou (6-1) 11 8 11 16 — 46
Maryknoll—Michael Miske 2, Jordyn Perez 0, Jaylen Cain 0, Darin Miyamoto 0, Calvin Koo 4, Hayato Kamata 2, Justice Sueing 24, Sage Pulu 9, Kaulana Schmidt 2, Matthew McGivern 0, Brian Washington 12.
Punahou—Randon Oda 0,Jordan Tanuvasa 0, Micah Ma’a 9, Justin Kam 10, Dayson Watanabe 8, Kala’i Santos 0, Kanawai Noa 4, Ronley Lakalaka 0, Jared Lum 0, ‘Akahi Troske 15, Jack-Eli Tufono 0.
3-point goals—Maryknoll 4 (Sueing 2, Koo, Pulu). Punahou 4 (Kam 2, Watanabe 2).