Warriors top UC Riverside, 63-56; stop skid

UH forward Justin McKoy scored nine points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished out three assists, made three steals and had one block in Saturday’s home victory over UC Riverside. (Brandon Flores photo)

Hawai’i used some fresh faces and fresh approaches Saturday night to top visiting UC Riverside, 63-56, in exciting Big West Conference men’s basketball action.

A vocal and appreciative crowd of 3,519 in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center watched JoVon McClanahan score a team-high 14 points with five rebounds and three assists and Noel Coleman add 10 points and eight boards as the Warriors snapped a four-game home losing streak to improve to 10-7 overall and 2-3 in league play. Point guard Barrington Hargress scored a game-high 18 points with four rebounds and three assists and Nate Pickens added 10 points, three boards and two steals for the Highlanders, who fell to 7-11, 2-4.

The victory was UH’s first at home since a win over Portland in the first round of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic way back on Dec. 21.

“It feels amazing,” said Warriors forward Justin McKoy, who contributed nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. “Every win matters but at home it’s super special and a gritty win like that against a tough team is always a good feeling for us.”

UC Riverside led, 48-44, after Hargress’ 3-pointer from the left wing with 11:21 remaining, but freshman guard Tom Beattie answered with a free throw 19 seconds later to ignite a game-turning 13-2 run capped by McClanahan’s fadeaway jumper from the left wing at the shot clock buzzer to put Hawai’i ahead, 57-50, with 1:08 left.

The Highlanders closed it to 59-55 on Will Tattersall’s 3-pointer from the right wing with 41.5 ticks on the clock, but McClanahan and McKoy sank four straight free throws down the stretch to seal the victory. The Warriors, who had been struggling from the free throw line the past few weeks, made 18 of 21 attempts (85.7 percent) Saturday.

“We know we (still) have work to do, but they are working, and today was a big step for us,” UH coach Eran Ganot said. “Coming out on the victorious side, 18 for 21 from the line, (including) 6-for-6 late. I thought the buy-in shifting to a (2-3) zone … The other part of our progression is we missed some good looks, and in the past we started to try to do it on own, which isn’t really like us. In the second half, we continued to share and play together — they deserve it.

“Breaking through in a close game, I’m just so proud of our guys. They’re incredible, biggest hearts … I’m so happy for them. Enjoy it.”

The Warriors jumped out to early leads of 8-2 and 12-6 in the first five minutes, but UCR answered with a 7-0 run culminating in Ben Griscti’s 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Highlanders their first lead at 13-12 eight minutes in. Hawai’i later responded with a 12 -3 surge highlighted by freshman reserve forward Akira Jacobs’ back-to-back 3-pointers to help turn a 19-18 deficit into a 30-22 lead with 4:24 remaining.

After several scoring droughts against UC Irvine on Thursday, Ganot had mentioned he may try “different combinations” in the lineup for Saturday, with the seldom-used Jacobs getting the surprising early call midway through the first period.

“We had been struggling from 3, surprisingly, and he’s one of our best shooters,” Ganot said. “He’s pretty process-oriented, too, his attitude has been great. To get this thing done, what we want to do, we’re gonna need everybody. Sometimes they will get their minutes, sometimes they won’t, they’re starting to give us a lift (like) Kody (Williams) the other day … they’ve been great teammates. Sometimes their roles switch, sometimes it doesn’t, but everybody is ready to go and they continue to support each other.

“You’re happy for (Akira) to have the moment, certainly you want some breakthroughs on the floor, he hit two big 3’s … I thought he was good defensively, he competed, he’s got a bright future. I think we’ve got some young guys who have bright futures. Having them on the floor will help them, having them succeed when they’re on the floor will help them. I think that’s what we need moving forward.”

The Highlanders closed out the half with six points in the final 23 seconds — on a 3-pointer by Tattersall and Hargress’ traditional three-point play — to cut the lead to 35-34 at the break.

Warriors center Bernardo da Silva then drew his third foul just 78 seconds into the second half, and was sent to the bench. UC Riverside took advantage by taking the lead and was up, 48-44, by the time he returned with 11:02 left.

That is when Beattie hit his free throw to start the decisive 13-2 run that put UH in front for good.

Defensively, the Warriors used an effective 2-3 zone to hold the Highlanders to just one field goal over a 10-minute span.

“I think in the man … not that we weren’t guarding well, but they were hurting us on a few things and their guards were getting downhill too much so we wanted to compact the perimeter,” McClanahan said. “I think we did well (in the zone), we were getting a lot of steals, some rebounds, causing some mishaps and we were getting out and running. And we rebounded out of the zone really well. We got easy points out of it, we controlled the game, slowed the game down a little bit.

“I think the zone worked really well for us, there’s going to be some times when we gotta (play) zone, some times when we gotta lock in on man. We gotta be able to switch up our defenses and offenses to win games like that, and that’s what we did.”

The Warriors will head back on the road next week, with games at Long Beach State on Thursday and UC San Diego on Saturday.

Big West Conference standings

  1. UC Irvine (6-0)
  2. UC San Diego (5-0)
  3. UC Davis (5-1)
  4. Cal State Northridge (4-1)
  5. UC Santa Barbara (3-3)
  6. Long Beach State (3-3)
  7. HAWAI’I (2-3)
  8. UC Riverside (2-4)
  9. Cal State Fullerton (1-4)
  10. Cal State Bakersfield (0-5)
  11. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (0-6)

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