The Punahou Buffanblu saved their best for last in more than one way on Friday night.
Coach Darren Matsuda’s squad played, perhaps, its best game of the season to pull away from Rhode Island powerhouse Bishop Hendricken 80-60 in the championship game of the Punahou Invitational.
A crowd of about 300 was on hand to see Punahou get a stellar performance from senior guards Chris Kobayashi and Zayne Chong. After Chong scored all 14 of his points in the first half to help Punahou take a 41-34 lead, Kobayashi erupted with 21 of his team-high 22 points — and three steals — after intermission. That included three treys and 8-for-8 shooting at the free-throw line.
Matsuda was proud of his team’s patience, especially that of Kobayashi.
“They were face-guarding him in the first half,” Matsuda said. “They had him well-scouted.”
“My teammates got it going in the first half, so (Hendricken) stopped (face-guarding) me,” Kobayashi said. “I definitely came out more aggressive.”
It took a balanced attack — 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals by Ke‘ala Martinson, and 16 points by sophomore center Duke Clemens — to stave off the Hawks, a team with just two seniors.
One of them is Justin Mazzulla, who led all scorers with 27 points. The 6-foot-3 senior was unstoppable at times whether he was on the low post, driving from the perimeter, or pulling up for all-net threes from deep. Mazzulla, who has signed to play for George Washington, shot 9-for-14 from the field and added six rebounds while committing just one turnover.
“He’s so smart and tough,” Bishop Hendricken coach Jamal Gomes said. “He’s a warrior.”
Mazzulla scored five points in the first quarter to help spark the Hawks, who were behind 11-0 while playing their fourth game in as many days. They trailed 26-12 entering the second quarter when Mazzulla became a coast-to-coast playmaker. He scored 10 points in the second quarter to bring the Hawks within 37-32.
However, by the second half, he began to wane, understandably. He scored 10 more points in the third quarter, but Punahou fastbreak was at full speed. As they did in the opening minutes of the first half, the Buffanblu used their fullcourt press and transition advantage to turn a seven-point halftime lead into a 52-34 edge, their biggest lead of the game.
The Hawks made one last run, getting a three-point play from Mazzulla, a baseline drive fro Andre Delos Santos and a foul-line jumper by Isaiah Mylers to pull within 65-54 early in the third quarter. After Matsuda called time out, Punahou got a layup from Kaulana Makaula (eight points, six rebounds, three assists) and a 25-foot trey by Kobayashi from straightaway.
Mazzulla was whistled for a technical foul after three Hawks got tangled up with Martinson on a drive by the Buffanblu forward. Kobayashi hit two foul shots and Cole Mausolf, shooting for Martinson (blood on his hand), hit one more as Punahou opened the lead to 73-55 with 4:46 left.
The Hawks got no closer than 15 after that.
It was a sometimes frantic, often physical battle between two teams playing man defense from start to finish. It was odd at times, too. Gomes was tagged with a technical foul in the second quarter for standing outside the coach’s box. Gomes protested, but the official who teed him said he had warned Gomes for two days.
“But that was yesterday,” Gomes said later.
All in all, it was a tough team win for Punahou against an athletic front court that included Mazzulla and Mylers (15 points, four boards). The Hawks simply had slow starts to each half — 10 of their 14 turnovers were in the first and third quarters — and they struggled to handle Punahou’s balanced attack.
Featuring Clemens in the low post, Punahou was patient offensively when there weren’t open looks, swinging the ball and working it to their post scorer. Clemens shot 7-for-7 from the field using a variety of pivots and moves — as Kevin McHale-ish as a stout offensive lineman can be.
The Hawks shot 45 percent from the field (21-for-47) and 65 percent from the charity stripe (15-for-23). Not bad at all. Punahou just played better, shooting 59 percent from the floor (27-for-46), including 43 percent from the arc (6-for-14). The Buffanblu also shot 73 percent from the foul line (24-for-33) and outrebounded the Hawks 27-22, grabbing nine offensive caroms.
“Punahou has a great coach and a great team. We gave our best and it wasn’t enough,” Gomes said. “We’ll take this experience back to Rhode Island and hopefully win a state title. We’re disappointed in the loss, but grateful for the opportunity to come here and compete. We’re thousands of miles of home, and I’m proud of our guys.”