The venomous bite of the Florida A&M Rattlers proved to be ineffective as the University of Hawai‘i men’s basketball team cruised to a 65-52 win in the 2019-20 season opener. The Rainbow Warriors (1-0) have now opened the season with a win in three consecutive seasons.
"I'm happy that we got the win," acting head coach Chris Gurlufsen said. "There was a lot of first game jitters for us tonight. We lost our discipline (in the second half). We didn't finish the game the way that we should. We played the scoreboard, and that's not Hawai‘i basketball. We'll address it tomorrow, get better, and move on to South Dakota on Sunday."
Gerlufsen made his head coaching debut in the season-opening win. He was named as the team’s acting head coach after Hawai‘i Athletics announced, just days before the game, that coach Eran Ganot was taking a temporary leave of absence.
"The great part about this program. There is a foundation," Gurlufsen said. "The way that business goes day in day out doesn't change with coach Ganot not being here. We're a very detailed and disciplined program."
Forward Samuta Avea led the team with a game-high 15 points, and fell just short of his first career double-double with a game-leading 9 rebounds. Both stats were career highs for him. Avea was one of three ‘Bows to score in double digits. Senior forward Zigmars Raimo finished with 10 points. To round out the group, freshman forward Bernardo Da Silva flashed his potential with a surprising 11 points off the bench. Da Silva drew oohs and ahs from the crowd with a dizzying array of dunks and blocks, showcasing his immense athleticism.
"Bernardo Da Silva showed flashes of something special," Gerlufsen said. "He stuck out to me as someone who really took a step for us tonight.
Junior guard Drew Buggs finished with a solid 9 points and 5 assists, but he was one of three ‘Bows to give the ball away 3 times.
"We didn't take care of the ball as well as we wanted in the second half," Buggs said.
Avea’s big night began with the game’s opening jumper, a triple off an assist by Zigmars Raimo. The shot set off a brief volley, with each team knocking down their first two shots. That proved to be the last time the match would be competitive. With a mixture of explosive offense and rock solid defense, the ‘Bows blitzed the Rattlers with a 14-0 run for a 21-4 lead. Florida A&M wouldn’t score again until the 8:47 mark.
During the run, the team got a good look at true freshman guard Cameron Ng. With fellow freshman Justin Webster scratched due to injury, Ng was thrust forward on a limited guard depth chart. All Ng did upon his debut was knock down a triple on his first collegiate shot attempt. At the helm of the team's second rotation, Ng sacrificed his body, diving around the court to make extra effort play after extra effort play.
"Cameron's a tough little guy," Gurlufsen said. "I think he's going to have a chance to make an impact on this program. We're counting on him. We're limited in the back court right now. He's going to have an opportunity to play. He showed some heart (tonight)."
Meanwhile, the ‘Bows offense continued to cruise, seemingly scoring at will en route to a 32-12 halftime lead. One ‘Bow who struggled to score was senior guard Eddie Stansberry. Unable to find his shot, Stansberry struggled to get himself on the scoreboard. He didn’t score a first half point on eight missed field goals.
Hawai‘i dominated the boards in the opening period, to the tune of 30 rebounds against just 18 by the Rattlers. Avea led the way with 7 rebounds in the half, with Buggs racking up 5.
"That's big," Buggs said. "That's an emphasis that we have, to defend, rebound, and take care of the ball. If we can get stops and get clean boards, that only makes our (transition) offense easier."
Whatever message was given during Florida A&M’s half time break appeared to do wonders, as the offense came out reenergized, scoring on two of their first four possessions. The defense continued to be porous however, as the Rattlers again fell victim to a 9-0 Hawai‘i run.
Ultimately, Florida A&M couldn’t cut far into the 20-point deficit, but the Rattlers responded well to a lackluster first half by outscoring the ‘Bows 40-33 in the second frame.
The Rainbow Warriors return to the Stan Sheriff Center to take on South Dakota on Nov. 10 at 5 p.m. HST.