Two Maryknoll alums in a basketball chess match.
Only one, Garrett Gabriel or Kelly Grant, could leave victorious. OIA champion Mililani opened an 11-point lead by halftime en route to a 49-43 win over two-time defending state champion Maryknoll on Thursday.
The second-seeded Trojans advanced to the semifinals of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. They meet ‘Iolani on Friday night at Moanalua’s gym. The Raiders routed third-seeded Hilo, 57-21, on Thursday.
Mililani has reached the semifinal round twice, in 2002 and ’04, but has never reached the final yet.
Garrett Gabriel’s uptempo squad has adapted to a much slower pace in recent weeks in preparation for nights like this. It was 21-10 in Mililani’s favor at intermission.
“We had a great first half defensively. After halftime, I knew they were going on their run,” Gabriel said. “They forced turnovers, six or seven which led to about 10 points. We gave up 20 points that quarter and 10 were off turnovers. I felt if we take care of the ball, we’re playing great defense.”
Maryknoll grabbed a one-point lead, but Mililani’s Jackson Mayo splashed a clutch 3.
“He and Dylan (Flanders) shot it pretty well last night,” Gabriel said.
Mililani finished 8-for-20 (40 percent) from 3-point range, while Maryknoll shot 6-for-22 (27 percent). Flanders finished with 11 points and J Marxen had 10. The Trojans had 14 turnovers, double Maryknoll’s total, but outrebounded the Spartans, 36-22.
“We’re beatable, but we can also beat anybody on a given night. It’s all in how you play. What’s meaningful is we’re playing a team that’s a two-time defending champion. Any time you beat a team like that, you feel good. The magnitude of that,” Gabriel said. “And you get rewarded by playing ‘Iolani.”
If any teams in this state tournament might be mirror images, Mililani and ‘Iolani fit the bill. Slashers, distributors, 3-point shooters, lean post defenders. One program is raising the bar to a new level. The other has a storied history of greatness.
“We’re playing a well-oiled machine. JJ (Mandaquit), they’ve got it almost set up for him to be Derrick Low No. 2 down the road,” Gabriel said. “They’re going to be a team to be reckoned with.”
At least one of Mililani’s playmakers has enjoyed postseason time in Moanalua’s gym. Trey Lieb erupted for 27 points, including six 3-pointers, last week in a 66-56 semifinal win over Kahuku in the OIA playoffs.
“I know Trey likes to play at Moanalua. He shoots it better,” Gabriel said. “He had two relatively off nights, but I told him that’s OK. Just impact the game differently. He took control of the ball late in the (Maryknoll) game. We needed him, the senior, to be strong with the ball.”
With the postseason condensed because the boys basketball state championships were moved up by a week, the grind is testing the endurance of players — and coaches. Mililani meets ILH runner-up ‘Iolani in the 7 p.m. matchup on Friday.
“I feel tired from the grind, and we met as coaches after the game. Our focus is on ‘Iolani, watching film,” Gabriel said. “We want to keep it close and see how it goes. It’s going to be interesting, it really is. Tonight’s going to be fun. I’m kind of excited about the Saint Louis-Baldwin game”
Saint Louis, Gabriel added, gets a huge boost from its senior point guard, Hayden Bayudan.
“Bayudan dictates everything. It’s not just (Aiva) Arquette. They don’t overwhelm you with strength. It’s just overall IQ,” Gabriel said.
At Mililani, the quest to build an elite basketball culture is ongoing. Being 30, 40 minutes away from Oahu’s top private schools could be an automatic plus-factor. Gabriel’s son, Dillon, became a football phenom at Mililani, earning All-State player of the year honors before matriculating to UCF. He is now at Oklahoma.
“The ILH does have an advantage with kids not staying in the district and playing, so in a lot of ways they’re supposed to be winning, but that doesn’t mean we can’t compete. You can work out, get better, do the same things,” Gabriel said. “You can save that (tuition) money for college. If you’re a good student, a valedictorian, it doesn’t matter where.”