Warriors embracing ‘feature game’ status versus Northern Arizona

Starting point guard and co-captain JoVon McClanahan scored 14 points, dished four assists, grabbed two rebounds, had one block and made a steal in an 82-66 victory over Niagara last Thursday. (Brandon Flores photo)

When a reporter noted that SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center will be the “center of the basketball universe” this week, University of Hawai’i men’s basketball coach Eran Ganot replied, “It’s always the center of basketball universe.”

He was only half joking.

For Ganot and the 2-0 Warriors, their home floor might be displayed on ESPN networks all day Tuesday with five of the nations top 11-ranked teams in action for the Allstate Maui Invitational, but the only game that really matters is their nonconference meeting with Northern Arizona (2-3) in the 8:30 p.m. nightcap.

“We’re in the feature game,” Ganot said.

The Lumberjacks are coming off a 78-69 neutral floor victory over Virginia Military Academy last Saturday in Phoenix, a game in which three of their players notched career highs in scoring, led by 6-foot-6 junior guard Trent McLaughlin’s 21 points. McLaughlin also grabbed four rebounds, made three steals and dished two assists. Junior shooting guard Jayden Jackson (6-4) added a career-high 18 points, and 6-10 junior forward Carson Basham — a transfer from Pepperdine, recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards.

UH, meanwhile, is coming off an 82-66 home win over Niagara that saw four Warriors score in double figures, led by shooting guard Noel Coleman’s 21 points. Point guard JoVon McClanahan and center Bernardo da Silva each added 14 points, and forward Justin McKoy tallied 12 points.

“We look better, that’s what we’ve been talking about, is just improve game to game,” said McClanahan, who added four assists, two rebounds, one block and a steal. “Just being more aggressive offensively, everybody being shot-ready, we have shooters. And I think our bench has been huge — there’s been production. And I think that matters, from our starting five to our bench. Offensively, we’re flowing way better, and I think we just have to get better defensively.

“But I can see us coming along, so I’m just proud of the adjustments we’ve made.”

One of the adjustments Tuesday will be the odd tipoff time, which is 90 minutes later than usual.

The original tipoff time was 7 p.m., but got pushed back after the Maui Invitational was moved to Manoa due to the Lahaina wildfires in August. Ganot said he was more than willing to accommodate, as a way to help, following the Charity Exhibition Game versus Saint Mary’s on Oct 20, which raised money for families impacted by the wildfires.

“We’re all in this together,” Ganot said. “I’ve said that there are going to be many touch points where we can help — the Saint Mary’s game was one, and this is another.”

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