Monarchs seeking minor miracle against Saints

Damien's Lindon Sevilleja rose for a shot over KS-Hawaii's Isaiah Nakoa-Oness during the third quarter of a game at the Punahou Invitational. Paul Honda/Star-Advertisr (Dec. 29, 2017)

They know each other quite well.

The Damien Monarchs have done good in their first trip to the state tournament since 2014. The small Catholic school on Houghtailing Street endured their share of adversity, but even after losing key players, Coach Alvin Stephenson’s young team qualified for the big dance.

St. Francis has been in the limelight long enough, another small Catholic school with big-time dreams. The defending state champions in Division II boys basketball is having another epic season. It wasn’t long ago that the all-girls school opened its doors to boys, built a gym, stocked it with a lightly used NCAA-tournament hardwood floor and expanded its pursuit of athletic excellence.

In football and basketball, Damien and St. Francis have pushed the limits. On the gridiron, the schools had monumental battles. Last fall, it was Damien that won the ILH D-II crown after major back-and-forth wins.

Teams, overall record including nonconference play, regular-season league record.

St. Francis Saints (27-3, 10-0 ILH D-II) vs. Damien Monarchs (16-8, 7-3 ILH D-II)
Stan Sheriff Center, 5 p.m.
St. Francis
Seed: No. 1. Def. Roosevelt 62-51 on Wednesday. Def. Kauai 65-42 on Thursday.
Seed: Unseeded. ILH runner-up. Def. Seabury Hall 57-45 on Wednesday. Def. Kalani 45-37 on Thursday.

Head to head: St. Francis def. Damien 69-43 on Jan. 10. St. Francis def. Damien 71-68 on Jan. 27.

Skinny: The Monarchs got stronger, not weaker, after losing players to suspension. They have won nine of the last 10 games, beating No. 2 seed Kalani and No. 3 seed Seabury Hall. The only loss during this run was to St. Francis by three points.

What they lack in sheer height, they compensate for with teamwork and toughness. Kolin Galdiano has been a classic floor leader whose ability to knock down clutch free throws is a major plus. Freshman Jydon Hall has gotten more and more comfortable, using his speed more efficiently. Crumel Mooring embraces his role as a multi-position weapon. The Monarchs have played together and learned that this works best with what they have. It isn’t flashy or splashy, but the lessons of this season will go a long way beyond the hardwood.

The Saints are like no other team in D-II. The calls from basketball observers for St. Francis to move to D-I has some merit. They are 5-3 against Top 10 teams this season, giving Punahou two tough games, nearly upsetting Kamehameha and beating Maryknoll, the team that went on to win the ILH D-I title.

Coach Ron Durant notes, however, that wins in tournament play aren’t as physically demanding as a full season of two, three games per week in the ILH. That’s debatable, perhaps, but he has a strong point. Kameron Ng, who scored 38 points against Roosevelt and 21 against Kauai, is clearly a dominant guard. Kordel Ng — the 5-9 kid who throws down alley-oop dunks — is a phenomenal pound-for-pound athlete, and Durant has depth in the backcourt. Inside, though, beyond 6-3 Boris Vukovic, the Saints have mostly football-first athletes. The recent departure of versatile 6-foot senior Manoa Kuali‘i-Moe supports what Durant has said all along. They’re just not as deep, not as big, not as ready to play in ILH D-I as some critics think.

There’s a difference between OIA regular-season play, which includes D-II teams, and ILH D-I. In addition, the OIA allows six of the seven teams in the East and West to qualify for the D-I playoffs. That’s 12 out of 14. There are six state-tournament berths. Why would a small program like St. Francis really want to move up unless required by the ILH? That may be the case. ‘Iolani’s football team moved up to D-I for two seasons, supposedly due to ILH rule, but the Raiders said it was also the players’ choice.

St. Francis has every opportunity to go easy and suffer the consequences of taking an opponent lightly. It has yet to happen. It’s unlikely to occur here with a state title on the line, especially against a Damien squad that nearly upset the Saints recently.

Damien could opt for an uptempo game, but playing in the SSC isn’t quite the same as playing at home, which is where that 71-68 game was played. There would be major tactics to keep Kameron Ng from catching fire — constant double teams, posting him up if St. Francis plays man to man — if the Monarchs go that route. Ng scored 28 points (8-for-9 at the foul line) in that game, and Kuali‘i-Moe had 14 (8-9 FT).

Damien isn’t the same team as it was that night. Freshman center Dimonyai Lacey, who scored 17 points, is no longer on the roster. On paper, that should be a minus for the Monarchs, but they’ve found ways to make this a plus, and St. Francis hasn’t played this new-look team again until today.

X-factor: Vukovic had a huge state-title game last year. On Thursday, he erupted for 19 points and 17 rebounds — seven offensive caroms — in just 22 minutes against Kauai.

Division II

Match #DateMatchupTime/ScoresSite
1Feb. 14(4) Hawaii Prep vs. KauaiKauai, 53-50St. Francis
2Feb. 14(1) St. Francis vs. RooseveltStF, 62-51St. Francis
3Feb. 14(3) Seabury Hall vs. DamienDMS, 57-45'Iolani
4Feb. 14(2) Kalani vs. HonokaaKaln, 51-33'Iolani
5*Feb. 15Seabury Hall vs. HonokaaHon, 47-41Kaimuki
6*Feb. 15Hawaii Prep vs. RooseveltRoos, 44-43Kaimuki
7Feb. 15Damien vs. KalaniDMS, 45-37St. Francis
8Feb. 15Kauai vs. St. FrancisStF, 65-42St. Francis
9*Feb. 16Honokaa vs. RooseveltRoos, 54-44Stan Sheriff Center
10*Feb. 16Kalani vs. KauaiKaln, 42-38Stan Sheriff Center
11Feb. 16Damien vs. St. FrancisStF, 76-52Stan Sheriff Center
* — consolation


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