Punahou rallies past Melbourne

Punahou's Nicholas Velasquez puts up a shot as he gets fouled by Melbourne's Dane Pineau . HSA photo by Bruce Asato

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(Here’s the extended version of the game story for the Punahou-Melbourne Grammer [Australia] game yesterday.)

It seemed only fair that a basketball team from Australia led in part by Dane Pineau — the son of a former UH Rainbow — would be destined to win the Punahou Invitational title in Stan Sheriff Center.


Nick Velasquez thought otherwise. The sophomore guard was all net on a 3-pointer with 47 seconds left to give Punahou a 42-40 win over Melbourne Grammer yesterday. Melbourne’s final opportunity came on a 12-foot floater by Anthony Vlitas that missed with 5 seconds left. Punahou rebounded, but the visiting team didn’t think to foul.

“Coach told me to just keep shooting and we’ve got the trophy,” Velasquez said. “The best thing is winning this championship. It’s an ultimate team goal.”

Melbourne’s 6-foot-8 sophomore, Dane Pineau, was one of the bright spots with a game-high 16 points. As a focal point in the first half, his efficiency in the low post seemed right at home. Pineau’s father, Brad, was a center for UH in the mid-1970s under then-coach Larry Little, more of a banger than than his son.

“It’s starting to come together,” Pineau said of his improving skills, which include a smooth 3-point stroke.

“Dane is going to be a really special player,” Melbourne coach Nick Abdicevic said. “Every month, every year, he’s going to get better and he’s difficult to guard.”

Punahou, ranked No. 5 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, is 9-3 overall. DeForest Buckner has been back with the team for about a week since recovering from a PCL injury during football season. He was just a tad rusty, but provided tough defense and offensive rebounding.

“We have a lot to practice. Teams like Kamehameha, ‘Iolani have practiced together. We just need to practice a little more,” the 6-7 junior said.

Velasquez and Buckner finished with 10 points apiece. Buckner was named the tourney’s most valuable player, joined on the all-tourney team by Malik Johnson (Punahou), Vlitas and Pineau (Melbourne) and Kamehameha-Hawaii’s defensive whiz, Lanaki Apele.

Punahou’s opening-round game on Monday was postponed when high humidity made the playing floor at Hemmeter Fieldhouse unplayable. They played the following morning, then again in the evening. None of the Buffanblu cited fatigue, however.

“(Melbourne is) disciplined, but a win’s a win,” Johnson said. “We started out not making layups and jump shots.”


Melbourne had just a handful of practices before voyaging to Hawaii, but played a disciplined, uptempo brand of ball. The loss spoiled what had been a pristine performance during their two-week stay in the islands. Melbourne won the Pete Smith Classic last week and was 5-0 here before facing Punahou.

“It’s just fantastic for the school and for the boys,” Abdicevic said. “(Punahou) was a little more athletic, a little more of a team and it shows the the last few minutes of the game.”
Pineau, a lanky, self-described “late bloomer,” scored six points and stuffed a Punahou shot attempt during an early run that gave Melbourne a 16-8 lead.

Playing its third game in 18 hours, Punahou was flat and cold until the third quarter. Johnson and Buckner took command and helped the Buffanblu tie it at 28 after Johnson’s steal and breakaway slam.

The visitors from Melbourne Grammer — Grammer spelled with an ‘M-E-R’ instead of an American ‘M-A-R’ — got a lift from 6-2 freshman Owinda Weerawardena (10 points). His runner in the key gave his team a 32-28 lead just before the close of the third quarter.
With Melbourne sitting in a 2-3 zone, Punahou’s patience paid off. Johnson, a 6-6 junior drove the baseline for a three-point play, but the lead changed three more times in the fourth quarter.

Pineau’s 3-point bomb from the top gave Melbourne a 38-37 lead with 3:25 left, and Justin de Steiger scored on a breakaway layup for a three-point lead with 2:40 remaining.
Punahou cut the margin to one point on free throws by Velasquez. After Weerawardena and Anthony Vlitas missed the front ends of 1-and-1s, Velasquez stroked the go-ahead trey.

Melbourne, which plays with a 24-second shot clock (FIBA rules) back home, had no designs of holding the ball in the final 2 minutes. The notion of pulling the ball out, American style, doesn’t fit for the Aussies.

“I think it’s just an instinct with our players. They’re used to it when the get that (scoring) opportunity,” Abdicevic said. “That’s why we were successful (earlier).”

Pineau’s family, including his basketball-playing sisters and Brad the dad, have enjoyed the vacation.

“I’d really like to play at UH. That would be a nice thing to play where my dad used to play,” said Pineau, who works on his game at 5 a.m. during the school week, in addition to his team’s afternoon practices. “UH would be amazing to play for. It’s a really nice place. People here are so nice. I’ve seen the facilities and it’s really great.”

The game tipped off at 2 p.m. between the consolation and championship rounds of UH’s Diamond Head Classic.


Punahou will play in the 16-team St. Francis/Merv Lopes Classic, which tips off on Monday. The Buffanblu open with No. 3 Farrington, which beat the Buffanblu in a nonconference opener on Nov. 24, 60-43.

Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser

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