Noah Kameehonua scored 16 points, Ryder Hsiung had 12 and Yoshi Kobayashi chipped in nine, including a key reverse layup with 2:25 left as Punahou escaped with a 65-59 win over Science Hill (Tenn.) in the final of the Punahou Invitational on Monday.
It was a wild, frenzied first half with both teams going full tilt on fastbreaks, then ground down to a defensive struggle in the second half. Things weren’t exactly chippy, but there was plenty of feistiness by each squad in the championship game. Hsiung and Kobayashi were selected by tournament officials to the All-Tournament team.
“Coach Darren (Matsuda) really prepared us,” Kobayashi said. “He said they were going to be well and go in to the big. We played well by playing pack line (defense) and stopping them.”
Thomas Messimer led the Hilltoppers with 11 points. The long-range shooter was 3-for-9 from the arc. Jordan McLoyd sparked a rally with 10 of his 12 points in the third quarter. Jake Matherne scored 10 points, all in the paint, and Keynan Cutlip, Amare Reed and Hunter Phillips chipped in nine each.
Punahou was scorching hot from the field and used its fullcourt pressure to force 16 turnovers in the first half.
“I just wanted to bring the energy early so we could have that 20-point lead,” said Hsiung, a 6-4 junior. “We kind of maintained it and we did a pretty good job in the end.”
Riding its fullcourt pressure, the home team led 30-10 with 3:18 left in the second quarter after a foul shot by Alexandru Iosivas.
“I’m very disappointed that we came out flat. We knew what to expect coming in (from Punahou’s press). We weren’t sharp at all with the basketball,” Hilltoppers coach Ken Cutlip said. “To start the game, they were probably two steps quicker to the ball. They made some shots when the momentum started going their way.”
Then came the big run.
“We tried to stay in the moment,” Matsuda said. “Science Hill is a really good team and a great program. We tried to hit our good stride in the beginning. Our press was working pretty good, but we knew they were going to come back. Basketball is a game of runs. You’re never out of the game as long as you’re hustling, and they’re very athletic and they hustle.”
It was a physical battle from end to end, and when one of the Hilltoppers was whittled for a foul in the paint on light contact, Cutlip was assessed a technical foul with 4:29 to play in the second quarter. By game’s end, the teams combined for three technicals, but more importantly, the Hilltoppers refused to give in.
Iosivas added nine points off the bench after center Jordan Deshawn Hepting got into early foul trouble. Iosivas, Hepting and Ioasa Tua were major keys for Punahou against the gigantic Hilltoppers, a program that has won three Tennessee Class AAA state titles in the past 11 years. Iosivas eventually fouled out, putting the onus on Tua.
The visitors were scrappy and energized after Cutlip pleaded with them during timeouts to increase their effort. The ‘Toppers cut the lead to 15 by halftime. Then, in the third quarter, they unveiled a fullcourt press of their own that led to six Buffanblu turnovers.
A savvy play by Keynan Cutlip, the coach’s son, led to a double-foul call against him and Hepting. That gave Hepting, a 6-7 rebounder, his fourth personal with 4:23 left in the third, and he sat down again. Hunter Phillips’ free throw cut it to 40-36 late in the third stanza.
“We felt like we would have a chance if we could get our kids to play a little harder. You’re playing a good team on their home floor, and they’re playing well. We knew it would be a challenge,” Coach Cutlip said. “We just dug too big a hole.”
Science Hill trailed 46-42 entering the fourth quarter.
“I thought that was a huge (sequence), too. We changed our defense. We went to a zone and got them to miss a long 3,” Cutlip said. “Then they had a missed shot and gave up an offensive rebound and they hit a 3. We never really recovered from that.”
Kameehonua hit that 3, plus a layup as Punahou opened the lead to 51-42 and kept Science Hill at bay. Peyton Macapulay fed Kobayashi for a reverse layup and a 58-50 cushion with 2:25 left, Science Hill still wouldn’t quit.
A foul by Cutlip with 1:18 left was followed by a verbal exchange with Kameehonua, who was assessed a technical foul. Macapulay missed his foul shots, and Messier delivered at the other end on the technical shots to bring the ‘Toppers within 59-54.
Tua, a 6-3 senior, hit a much-needed free throw down the stretch and came up with a crucial rebound. Down eight, Science Hill got a corner 3 from Messimer to get within 62-57 with 56 seconds left. That was as close as it got.
“It was important to get a game like this. We were struggling to get a game like this. We were struggling closing games. To get a win in a close win is going to help us grow and keep building,” Matsuda said. “The ILH this year is incredible. It’s probably one of the best (overall) talent I’ve seen in a long time.”
Science Hill, meanwhile, showed why it has been a powerhouse for more than a half-century. That pressure was impressive by the tall, long ‘Toppers, who dominated the boards and went about trapping Punahou every chance they could in the second half.
“Actually, we do press quite a bit. The way the games have been called the first three nights, I was really concerned about foul trouble,” Cutlip said. “I had both of my point guards foul out two nights ago, so we tried to manage that early in the game.”
The Hilltoppers will enjoy one more day in the islands. There’s a trip to Pearl Harbor on the itinerary. Then they and they robust fans — roughly 70 of them cheered from start to finish at full volume — will head back to Tennessee.
“Life’s about dealing with setbacks and things not going your way. Everybody can handle things when everything’s good. It’s how you handle the things that are bad that defines who you are,” Cutlip said. “That’s why I love sports. You’ve got to make good decisions and respond the right way.”
Punahou, ranked No. 4 in the Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10, opens its ILH regular season at Saint Louis — and former Buffanblu coach Dan Hale — on Friday.