The message was clear from coach Ron Durant to his St. Francis Saints.
Everyone step up. With the Saints on the verge of something more than just cool — they’d just knocked off mighty Sequoia (Calif.) in the quarterfinals of the Punahou Invitational — they might achieve something new. By Friday night, the fifth-ranked Saints had a stunning 55-48 upset win over No. 2 Maryknoll at Hemmeter Fieldhouse.
They did it despite leading scorer Kameron Ng sitting for almost the entire second quarter after picking up a third foul.
“It was Kordell (Ng), Manoa (Kuali‘i-Moe), Jett (Tanuvasa) and Bubba (Akana) off the bench. Bryce (Nishida) hitting those 3s. All of them made a big contribution when Kam was out,” Durant said. “At our pregame at school, I challenged our guys. We had yet to have a game with all five (starters) contributing together as a group.”
They got that and more. Down 22-13 early in the second, Kordell Ng ran the point and the ball continued to move on drive-and-dish action. The Saints were 3-for-5 from downtown, with two treys from Nishida and one from Tanuvasa, during the second quarter. That brought them to within 30-29 late in the half.
Kameron Ng had scored 31 points in the quarterfinal win over Sequoia. Sitting for nearly eight minutes during that second period was an odd feeling.
“I told them to keep attacking. We got to the basket easily,” he said.
Kordell Ng, just a sophomore, had three assists in the quarter.
“I listen to him,” he said of his older brother. “He’s our leader.”
Another key factor was St. Francis’ 2-3 matchup zone. At times, the Ng brothers extended on-ball pressure beyond the 3-point line, but whatever the coverage, they did plenty to stifle a normally good-shooting Maryknoll team. The Spartans shot just 24 percent from the field after halftime (6-for-25), including 1-for-11 from the arc.
Kameron Ng followed the script, hitting 9-for-10 at the foul line in the final quarter. He finished with 21 points, 13-for-14 total at the charity stripe.
The Saints (16-2) had already played tough against Kamehameha and Punahou before losing close games. Ng was a tireless playmaker all preseason, but has learned from the only two losses on St. Francis’ ledger.
“We were forcing shots last time,” he said of a 74-66 loss to Punahou on Dec. 21. “It feels good to win this one. Hopefully, we have a good game against Punahou.”
Originally, St. Francis was scheduled to meet Tesoro (Calif.) in the opening round on Wednesday. However, Coronado, who Punahou coach Darren Matsuda considered the favorite, was a last-minute pull-out. That led to a reshuffling of the schedule, and Punahou edged Tesoro in the other semifinal on Friday night, 44-41.
Against Maryknoll, the Saints shot well from the arc, 7-for-14, including four treys by Nishida. For the game, they shot a solid 47 percent from the field, taking just 32 shots. They were also on point at the foul line, 17-for-19 (89 percent), and managed to outbound the tall Spartans 25-23.
Maryknoll got 11 points from Jaylen Cain, but he played sparingly after getting into foul trouble. Jordyn Perez did not play after suffering a cut to his head in quarterfinal play. That put more of a workload on Isiah Gelacio, who shot 2-for-3 in the first half, but 2-for-9 after intermission. Marcus Tobin added 10 points and seven rebounds, but he also struggled from the field after the break.
To hear the Saints explain it, the success of the zone was a bit surprising.
“Maryknoll was missing,” Kordell Ng said. “And our zone normally sucks.”
Two years ago, Matsuda predicted that St. Francis would join ILH D-I. Two years have passed, and the Saints remain in D-II, where they won a state title last season.
“That was only the second time I’ve seen Maryknoll (this season). We match up very well. We gave up some size and that hurt us early,” Durant said. “That’s what holds us back from joining ILH D-I. We can handle one-sies and two-sies like this, but two or three times a week, every week. The main thing tonight is we know we can’t win consistently if Kam has to score 30. We had our best game of the year.”