Senior night was the right night for No. 4 Maryknoll, which stunned No. 1 ‘Iolani 55-51 at Clarence T.C. Ching Gymnasium on Tuesday.
‘Iolani had not lost an ILH game since Dec. 7, 2018, a 49-45 loss at home against Kamehameha. Including last season’s playoffs, the Raiders had won 16 league games in a row.
Serenity Moananu poured in 16 points, Aloha Akaka added nine and the Spartans (13-5, 5-4 ILH) went deep on their bench en route to the upset win. With ‘Iolani four games ahead of second-place Maryknoll in the ILH standings, Spartans coach Chico Furtado had talked about playing as much of his reserves as possible. He followed through on that plan, and his reserves may have surprised him.
Backup point guard Kira Kaopua was instrumental with crafty ballhandling, and Brandi Tobin was tough on the boards on a night when Lily Koki and Taimane Faleafine-Auwae suffered injuries before the fourth quarter.
“Kira gave us good ballhandling, so the twins (Aloha and Mahalo Akaka) didn’t have to control the ball. Brandi Tobin gave us some toughness around the bucket,” Maryknoll coach Chico Furtado said.
Maryknoll started both of their seniors, Jewels Furuto, who normally is the 10th player out of 10 on the roster, along with regular starter Kyla Neumann. She replaced Faleafine-Auwae, their center. Maryknoll then battled to stay close with the defending state champion Raiders.
“I thought we did a good job closing out the first half,” Furtado said. “We were down eight, cut it to two. We made some plays there, got some stops.”
The second half started with a run by the visitors.
“They hit a couple of 3s to start the third quarter and we’re down nine,” Furtado continued. “Then we hit a 3 to cut it to six and we slowly took control.”
A big run by Maryknoll gave the home team a 45-39 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“They were settling for 3s. They hit a bunch and then they went cold,” Furtado said.
Maryknoll’s 2-3 matchup zone took a toll. The Spartans also continuously attacked the basket on offense against ‘Iolani’s tough defense.
“‘Iolani plays good, hard-nosed man. A lot of the hand-checking they weren’t calling at the Punahou game (in the first half), they were calling tonight. We got the bonus early in the fourth (quarter), but we weren’t hitting a lot of free throws.”
In spite of that, Maryknoll opened its lead to nine. Then, with 5 minutes left, the Spartans went into delay mode.
“We just grinded it out. It wasn’t pretty, but the kids just playing hard and kept grinding it out,” Furtado said.
Lily Wahinekapu led ‘Iolani (17-2, 8-1 ILH) with 23 points and Jovi Lefotu added 12.
“We did an excellent job guarding Lily. She had four 3s in the first half and I don’t think she had one in the second half. ‘Iolani is a multi-talented team. You’ve got to kind of name your poison. We’re going to try to not let their best player hurt us. Alexis Huntimer hit a couple of 3s that extended their lead, but when we took the lead down the stretch, that basket became smaller for them,” Furtado said.
Furtado and his team gained a measure of confidence with the win.
“I asked at halftime, ‘You don’t have to answer. How many of you truly believe you can beat ‘Iolani?’ After tonight, they realize if you play hard and stay together and ‘Iolani has a bad shooting night, anything can happen,” said Furtado, himself an ‘Iolani graduate. “I still believe ‘Iolani is the best team in the state, but tonight was our night. What we proved tonight is that we’re not that far behind.”
It was the perfect night for the Spartans in many ways. Underclassmen like the Akaka sisters had been looking forward to dancing for their seniors once the game was over and senior-night festivities began — maybe more than they had looked forward to the game.
“They’re just being kids,” Furtado said. “Our kids, I love the closeness of our team. I told them that before the game. This 4-1 run we have since Christmas break has a lot to do with the closeness we gained on our trip to California. Our twins and Serenity are showing some great leadership. We make mistakes and we give up leads, but we keep battling and we keep taking care of each other.”