This time, Saint Francis finished the state tournament the way it started.
Last year, the Saints were awarded the top seed in the Division II boys basketball bracket but settled for third after a three-point loss to Seabury Hall in the semifinals and watched University celebrate the title.
The Saints got back to work this season and rolled to the ILH D-II title to again earn the No. 1 distinction in the eight-team state tournament field.
They won their first-round and semifinal games by a combined 65 points to advance to the final for the first time since winning the title in 2013.
The Saints overcame an icy start then weathered a last-minute comeback to complete their quest with a 52-46 win over Kalani on Friday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
“There was a lot of pressure on us this year,” third-year Saint Francis coach Ron Durant said. “Winning back-to-back ILH championships wasn’t easy. For the school, everybody was kind of expecting it so I’m happy for our school.”
After the Saints opened the game 0-for-10 from the field in the first quarter, sophomore guard Kameron Ng and junior forward Boris Vukovic sparked a 17-0 run in the second period and Saint Francis took an 18-10 lead into halftime.
The scoring picked up in the second half and Saint Francis pushed the lead to 16 entering the fourth quarter. But Kalani, the OIA D-II champion and third seed, stayed patient and chopped a 13-point deficit with 1:29 left to three with 22.6 seconds remaining. But the Saints managed to hang on from the free-throw line to claim the crown.
“Man, that was the longest minute of a game I’ve ever played,” Ng said. “I just wanted the horn to sound and us to be up just to come out with a championship.”
Ng finished with a game-high 16 points and Vukovic added 13 points and 11 rebounds in the win. Ng also had four of Saint Francis’ nine steals and a block by Micah Kalei late in the first quarter helped shift the energy of the game after Kalani broke out to an 8-1 lead.
“We preach defense, and we turned the tide on defense,” Durant said. “We probably played our best defensive quarter in the second quarter when we needed it.”
The Saints entered the game dealing with adversity when point guard Manoa Kuali’i-Moe suffered a broken elbow in the semifinal win over Honokaa on Thursday.
Ng went 5-for-12 from the field and 6-for-7 from the free-throw line and averaged 21 points in three state tournament games.
“He’s got all the tools,” Durant said. “He tries to get people involved but there comes a point where he says, ‘I need to do something,’ and he’s got the skill set to do that. One of the hardest working kids I’ve ever coached.”
The Saints lose three seniors off their championship roster — Kalei, Noah Kurasawa and Supilani Mailei — and are slated to return five juniors, five sophomores and a freshman.
While the title provided a triumphant punctuation to this season, it’s also a step in Durant’s project since taking over three years ago.
“As a program I’m trying to build a culture of one team,” Durant said. “It’s not intermediate, it’s not JV. We’re all one team.”