Warriors sink Portland, 69-56, in DHC opener

Hawai’i center Bernardo da Silva scored 14 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and made one steal Thursday night as the Warriors defeated Portland to advance to Friday’s 6 p.m. Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic semifinal game versus Georgia Tech. (Chris Kadooka photo)

Hawai’i overcame a slow start and then heated up quickly Thursday night to defeat visiting Portland, 69-56, in the first round of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.

A festive and vocal crowd of 3,632 in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center watched Matthue Cotton score a team-high 15 points, grab six rebounds and make two steals and Bernardo da Silva add 14 points, 11 boards and one steal as the Warriors improved to 8-2 and advanced to Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinal showdown against Georgia Tech (7-3).

The game will be nationally televised live on ESPN2 and broadcast live via radio on ESPN Honolulu 1420AM.

“We’re fortunate … the Diamond Head affords those opportunities,” UH head coach Eran Ganot said. “It’s interesting, because the reward for winning big games is you get to play more big games.”

The Warriors earned this opportunity after overcoming a slow start that saw them trailing, 13-8, midway through the first half after the Pilots (6-7) went on an 11-3 run. Juan Munoz sank two free throws with 10:22 remaining in the first half to ignite a 17-6 surge over the next seven minutes with Mor Seck’s free throws pushing Hawai’i ahead, 25-19.

Noel Coleman’s layup 13 seconds before halftime gave the Warriors a 34-27 lead heading into the locker room, and UH opened the second half with a 16-7 run to lead 50-32 after da Silva’s layup six minutes in. Portland responded with an 18-7 surge capped by Vukason Masic’s 3-pointer from the right corner to close it to 57-50, but Cotton answered with a 3-pointer from the right corner to start a 12-2 run and Coleman’s layup with 1:38 left made it 69-52 — effectively sealing the victory.

“Really pleased with the win,” Ganot said. “(It’s a) great tournament, great field, great coaches, great programs, and every game is going to be a battle. We had a lot of respect for Portland going in, (I) thought they did a great job early, the biggest thing I’m proud of is we weathered a lot. We didn’t shoot it well early, (but) we are a great shooting team. I liked that we were still aggressive.

“That’s a big part of our maturity. (The Pilots) are a dynamic team and they did some different things, they switched out everything (on defense), got us a little stagnant at times. But I’m glad we were still aggressive, I’m glad we stuck with the post defense, we mixed some things up (matchup-wise).”

Portland forward Tyler Robertson, a versatile 6-foot-6, 235-pound senior, posted up early and scored three inside baskets in the game’s first nine minutes as the Pilots took the early lead. But Justin McKoy (6-8, 220) took over that cover assignment and helped limit Roberston to just five points the rest of the game.

“(Robertson) was posting up pretty much almost every possession, and the coaches made a great adjustment by putting one of our bigger guys on him,” said Cotton, who is 6-5, 200. “Just limiting his ability in the post was a big win for us.”

On the offensive end, the Warriors heated up after a slow shooting start and finished the first half 33 percent (6 of 18) from 3-point range and 35.5 percent (11 of 31) for the game. Cotton was 3 of 7 from beyond the arc, and Coleman hit 2 of 5 and finished with 14 points.

In the meantime, da Silva was effective in the paint and made 7 of 10 field goals.

“They’re a pretty physical team and they were switching (on defense), so once they switched you kind of got a smaller defender on you and tried to keep us out of the post. They were physical, but we just tried our best to take our physicality to them, too, and be able to play our game and get the shots that we want.”

Georgia Tech presents a different, and probably stiffer challenge as the Yellow Jackets already have a 72-68 victory over then No. 7-ranked Duke on their season resume.

“They’re a dynamic team, in different ways,” Ganot said. “I know how physical they are, and have an ability to get to the line, and how dynamic their personnel (is) and how battled tested they’ve already been. All of these games are challenges, there’s going to be a lot of battles.”

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