It was a rickety afternoon at the free-throw line for the Maryknoll Spartans.
After putting in extra work at practice and on the road in recent weeks, the Spartans saw a downturn at the charity stripe in a crucial battle with No. 1 Punahou on Saturday. Kalai Akaka was there to hit the big foul shots once again.
Akaka accentuated a versatile performance — 10 points, six assists and a steal — with 6-for-6 shooting at the foul line. He sank four in the fourth quarter as No. 2 Maryknoll knocked off Punahou 55-49 to create a logjam atop the Interscholastic League of Honolulu boys basketball standings.
Maryknoll is 4-1 in league play (18-2 overall), and Punahou is now 3-1 (18-2). The Buffanblu saw their 16-game win streak come to an end on Maryknoll’s homecoming.
The home team had stellar performances at the line recently, hitting 31-for-34 in one game and 30-for-43 in another. On Saturday, they were 13-for-23, including 5-for-13 in the first three quarters. Akaka came through, as did Makoto Kamata and Marcus Tobin, who were a combined 4-for-4 in a defensive battle.
“Kalai is shooting close to 90 percent on the year,” Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant said. “It went from he’s not going to be considered being one of our technical foul shooters to now he is. His ball doesn’t come out clean, but he’s so confident because he’s been shooting like that since he was 7, 8 years old. Like that guy who used to play for the Indiana Pacers (Reggie Miller).”
Tobin hustled and defended the rim with his teammates against the athletic, explosive Buffanblu. The 6-foot-7 senior led the Spartans with 15 points and Kamata added 14 with eight rebounds.
Kaulana Makaula led Punahou with 14 points in a terrific all-around performance. Jakob Kimura and Ryder Hsiung each added 12 points and center Duke Clemens tallied 11 against constant double- and triple-teams by the Maryknoll defense.
“They’ve got a lot of shooters, guys who can post up. Jakob, the guy can shoot. They’ve got everything. We needed a team effort,” said Grant, whose team has not allowed more than 55 points in a game all season. “We played pretty solid defense. We played a little zone defense, they got a couple of shots up.”
Punahou played without standout defender and 3-point shooter Tamatoa Falatea, who is on the mainland for a football visit. The Buffanblu normally press all game long, but opted to wait.
“We spent a lot of time getting ready for their press an they didn’t press us until the last four minutes of the game,” Grant said.
Maryknoll also worked in favor of its personnel. With Clemens in foul trouble, the Spartans posted up their tall wings on Punahou’s guards.
“We knew that some of their guards were smaller than us so we tried to take advantage of that,” Akaka said.
The win was a good bounce-back for Maryknoll after a 34-33 loss to Kamehameha on Thursday.
“The practice before we were dogging it, but we were all tired,” Payton Grant said. “We had our senior project on that day, and you have to pass it to graduate. Not to make excuses. Kamehameha gave us a different look.”
When Maryknoll met Kamehameha for the Kaimuki Invitational title a month ago, the Spartans won going away 60-35.
“They gave us a different look because last time they played us man,” Grant, the senior, said. Thursday, they played us zone the whole game and slowed down the tempo. They threw us off.”
The Spartans are back at square one with the win over Punahou.
“We’ve got to come out and play every night. Go at each other at practice,” Grant added.