For the second night in a row, the University of Hawai‘i men’s basketball team’s matchup came down to the final seconds of regulation. This time around, the Rainbow Warriors (2-1) came out on top in the race to the finish to pick up a 72-67 comeback victory over the Pacific Tigers.
"Tremendous team win," acting head coach Chris Gerlufsen said. "Gutsy win, gritty win. Was it pretty? No. But we found a way, and that's all credit to the guys in the locker room. I couldn't be prouder of our team, just the fight and the grit to stick around."
Senior guard Eddie Stansberry, who had yet to put in a complete shooting game for the ‘Bows, both started and ended hot against the Tigers. Stansberry knocked down two triples, along with a trio of free throws in the first to lead the team with 9 points heading into the locker room. The second half was even better, as he pushed his total tally to a game-best 26 points.
"To see the shots go in is such a great feeling," Stansberry said. "You're going to have nights where you see them go in, and you're going to have nights where they don't. Just keeping that same confidence and keeping that same energy and trusting my shot, I think any shooter should always have that process."
Senior guard Drew Buggs had a tough shooting night, but made some key hustle plays down the stretch and wound up with 13 points on the night. His best play of the game came with 25 seconds left in the game. Holding a slim 66-64 lead, sophomore center Mate Colina tipped the ball out of Pacific guard Justin Moore’s hands, sending it rolling down to the other end of the court. For a brief moment, you might’ve been excused for thinking Buggs was on the track team. He sprinted down and dove on the ball, calling a timeout as he stopped just shy of the end line. The incredible show of hustle gave Hawai‘i just the breathing room it needed, leading to a 6-3 ‘Bows run in the final seconds of the game that effectively ended it.
"Game-wining play," Stansberry said. "I tip my hat off to (Colina and Buggs). I see Drew in a full sprint, slide, call a timeout. That was the game-winning play. Those type of plays are the plays we live for in this program."
A trio of missed jumpers by both teams opened the game, before Justin Moore drew first blood with a layup off a fast break. Moore followed that up with a triple to put Hawai‘i in a hole early. The ‘Bows wouldn’t score until the 16:43 mark, as Raimo knocked down two free throws.
In a big narrative change, Stansberry got off to a hot start this time around, knocking down a triple at 15:50 to tie the game up at five apiece. A minute later, sophomore forward Justin Hemsley joined in on the action with a jumper to take the lead for the first time.
Hawai‘i continued to build up that lead, eventually working it up to an eight point advantage on freshman guard Cameron Ng’s three-point jumper. The lead quickly evaporated however, as a 15-7 Tigers run tied the game up. Amari McCray’s layup at 5:03 gave the lead back to Pacific.
Despite giving up three inches in height to the ‘Bows’ seven-foot towers, McCray used his 300-pound frame to dominate the paint. With McCray ruling the front court battle, Pacific racked up 20 first half points in the paint, compared to just 8 for Hawai‘i.
The two teams traded leads following McCray’s bucket, before the ‘Bows pulled away with two free throws to go into the locker room with a 35-33 lead.
The Tigers came out of the gate fast following the halftime break, as a McCray jumper tied up the game. A Jahlil Tripp jumper gave Pacific the lead, and after a few UH attempts to tie the game, the Tigers took hold of the lead for good. With Colina and senior forward Zigmars Raimo holding McCray back, Pacific’s guards stepped up to help maintain the advantage for the next 11 minutes.
Back-to-back Hawai‘i triples by Stansberry and junior forward Samuta Avea at 3:58 finally shook up the Tigers’ hold on the game. Coming out of a timeout, Stansberry knocked down an and-one triple that gave the ‘Bows their first lead of the half and brought the SSC crowd to its feet. Stansberry made the ensuing free throw, but Pacific responded with two free throws of their own to tie the game up at 64-64.
Wanting to avoid another come-from-behind volley, Buggs’s late game heroics began to take effect. Buggs found a slashing Raimo for an easy layup to regain the lead. On the very next Tigers possession, Buggs made his diving play to give the ‘Bows a chance to extend their lead. Stansberry obliged, knocking down two free throws to make it a two possession game.
Pacific forward Jeremiah Bailey knocked down a clutch three-pointer to make it a one point game with eight seconds left to play, but the Tigers made the critical mistake of calling a timeout with none left. Hawai‘i was awarded two free throws and possession of the ball as Pacific was assessed a technical foul. Stansberry knocked down both his shots, as did Buggs after a Tigers intentional foul, and the game was all but over.
Although Hawai‘i didn’t win the Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic, two of its players were recognized as the tournament’s best. Stansberry, who finished with 42 points over three games, and Avea, who finished with 38 points, were both named to the All-Tournament team.
The Rainbow Warriors return to the Stan Sheriff Center to take on Portland State on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. HST.