It was a rare kind of game, a showdown between a promising 6-foot-11 shooter and a veteran 6-9 gunner.
It was also one of the strangest, this summer-time exhibition game between the defending state champion of Hawaii, Maryknoll, and CIF powerhouse Mater Dei.
By the end of the night — tip-off time was 8:45 p.m. — legendary coach Gary McKnight of Mater Dei had absorbed two technical fouls, was thrown out of the gym emphatically, and Maryknoll rallied for a 41-32 win in the upper gym at ‘Iolani on Thursday.
“Our team kept on getting more and more confidence, so that’s how we got on a roll and kept on moving,” said Sage Tolentino, Maryknoll’s 6-11 scorer.
Maryknoll’s starting five graduated recently, opening the doors of opportunity to returnees and first-year varsity players.
“I feel good. I thought we were going to get blown out,” Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant said. “They’re not expecting to lose. They lost their composure. It is what it is. If we lost today by 50 points, I would’ve been disappointed. If we lost by 20, I would’ve been satisfied. As long as we’re getting better as the summer goes along, that’s all that matters.”
Tolentino pumped in 17 points as the lone Spartan who could consistently hit buckets. Nearly all his field goals were from outside the paint, including a key putback on a fastbreak miss by a teammate to stave off the Monarchs.
Harrison Hornery, Mater Dei’s impressive 6-9 junior wing, finished with 13 points. Hornery, who has scholarship offers from Cal, Georgia Tech and Southern California, resumed his marksmanship from the 3-point arc after sparking the Monarchs in a close loss to Team Shimamoto on Wednesday. Hornery’s treys from deep were in in the eye of Tolentino, who is playing major minutes after seldom-used reserve role during Maryknoll’s state title run last winter.
“It was, ‘How the heck?’ I listened to my coaches,” Tolentino said. “They said move more up so he doesn’t hit it in my face again.”
Hornery scarcely got an open look the rest of the night. Meanwhile, Tolentino was practically unstoppable at times, being opportunistic and showing that he is, at this point, Maryknoll’s best scorer from any spot on the floor.
Then came the game’s most bizarre sequence with Maryknoll ahead 31-25, Tolentino drove from the left corner and was met immediately by a defender. He appeared to lose the ball as he went up for a shot near the elbow, and a foul was called. Two shots. That’s when the Mater Dei bench erupted.
Though it wasn’t McKnight who started the verbal challenge, he drew the first technical foul. Moments later, after reading the foul count out loud — it was 6-1 in Maryknoll’s favor when he began — McKnight was assessed his second tech and heaved. One player on the floor noted that McKnight’s comments to referees by that point had been less than pleasant.
“He was talking back to the ref, all the bad stuff. He was swearing,” Tolentino said. “Even their players on the court, they were swearing at the refs, talking back. All crowd was into it. It was pretty crazy. It was a good experience because I’ve got to learn from that.”
None of the cussing was audible from the bleachers, but it was part of the sudden swerve in intensity. Mater Dei saw their head coach walk out of the gym, then scored the next two buckets to pull within 31-29. Tolentino’s air-ball corner 3, however, wasn’t what Coach Grant wanted. At the time, Maryknoll led 36-30 with just two minutes left. With no shot clock in the upper gym, the Spartans didn’t need to give the Monarchs a quick opportunity.
Still, the many plusses by Tolentino and his teammates — returning senior Liko Soares was a force in the paint against the taller Monarchs — outweighed the mistakes of their youthfulness. Maryknoll went ahead 41-32, capping a 10-2 run, and was never threatened again.
The Monarchs were less than pleased, too. When McKnight received his second tech, the lead referee tossed him with the authority of an old-school baseball umpire, adding a few verbal comments to boot. Even two spectators who had been cheering for neither team, but sat behind the Mater Dei bench, chastised officials for much of the second half. They were asked to refrain by a female security representative, and that calmed them down.
It was a frustrating night for Mater Dei, which saw its Varsity 2 team lose to Moanalua earlier, 55-36. In two nights at the ‘Iolani Summer League, the Monarchs are 1-4 with the lone win coming in Thursday’s JV game against Kaimuki. The Monarchs have games tonight and Saturday at ‘Iolani.
Friday (Lower Gym)
6:30 p.m. — MD JV vs. McKinley
7:30 p.m. — MD V2 vs. Mid-Pacific
8:30 p.m. — MD V1 vs. ‘Iolani
Saturday (Lower Gym)
6 p.m. — MD JV vs. ‘Iolani 2
7 p.m. — MD V2 vs. Kamehameha
8 p.m. — MD V1 vs. Hawaii Raiders