Warriors top CSUN, 75-68; next up: UC Davis

Hawai’i center Bernardo da Silva scored 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds and made two assists Thursday night to help the Warriors hold off Cal State Northridge in Hercules Tires Big West Championships quarterfinal action in Henderson, Nev. (Brandon Flores Photography photo)

HENDERSON, Nev. — Fighting off a slow start and relentless attack by Cal State Northridge, the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team held on to defeat the Matadors, 75-68, in Hercules Tires Big West Conference Championship quarterfinals action Thursday night.

A crowd of 831 — mostly UH fans clad in green, white or black — at the Dollar Loan Center Arena watched Justin McKoy score 16 points, grab three rebounds and make two assists and Bernardo da Silva add 14 points, nine boards and two assists as the Warriors improved to 20-13 overall. Hawai’i advances to Friday’s 5:30 p.m. (HST) semifinal against UC Davis (19-12).

The game will be shown live on ESPN + and broadcast via radio on ESPN Honolulu 1420AM.

De’Sean Allen-Eikens scored a game-high 22 points, Dionte Bostick added 18 points and Keonte Jones contributed 15 points and 10 rebounds for CSUN, which ends a turnaround season at 19-15.

The Matadors jumped out to a 10-3 lead in the first five minutes, but UH answered with a 17-10 run capped by Harry Rhouliadeff’s driving layup to tie it at 20-20 with 8:38 remaining in the first half, then took the lead for good on Rhouliadeff’s three-point play which put the Warriors in front, 28-26, with 3:27 left.

Hawai’i then built the lead to 53-43 six minutes into the second half, but CSUN roared back and eventually closed it to 68-66 after Bostick’s layup high off the glass with 2:34 remaining.

The Warriors then used a 7-2 run to close out the victory.

“It’s a great win, I thought that was kind of a micrcocosm of the year — we dealt with adversity all year, and we dealt with adversity in this game,” UH coach Eran Ganot said. “Harry had a great first half and went out (with an injury), and we had to step up for him. I know it’s a cliche, but ‘next man, every man’ has been really powerful for us in these past 13 games, hopefully we keep it going with different guys stepping up.

“Credit them, we knew it was going to be a tough game and we have a lot of respect for Northridge, their staff, their head coach has done an awesome job.”

In the game’s first four minutes, the Warriors went 1 for 8 from the field, including 0 for 4 from 3-point range. At eight minutes in, those numbers were only slightly better at 4 for 12 and 1 for 6 as the Matadors led, 15-10.

But Rhouliadeff, a sophomore reserve power forward, helped the comeback with a 3-pointer from the right corner and then his layup to tie it at 20-20. But after converting the go-ahead three-play, he took a hard fall and appeared groggy while being helped off the court.

Rhouliadeff did not play in the second half.

“We were smart about it, I don’t have any (medical) information now, but we’ll get it and go from there,” Ganot said. “It was good to be able to get it done without him, and step up for him while we figured out his situation.”

Hawai’i took a 36-30 lead into halftime, and extended it to 53-43 after Juan Munoz’s deep 3-pointer from the left wing six minutes into the second half. But the Matadors immediately responded with an 8-0 run culminating in Jones’ layup to cut it to 53-51 just over two minutes later.

“They can come back quick,” Ganot said. “I was asked how to defend the paint with them, well, easier said than done. They can really put the pressure on you in transition, they get on the offensive boards, they get to the line. And they can score off turnovers …

“We had some adversity through the game, and we hung in there. And when they made their run, we tried to limit it and stay poised, and that’s a credit to our group, our seniors.”

One key in achieving that was slowing down Allen-Eikens, who scored a season-high 34 points in a loss at Hawai’i just eight days prior and had 18 through the first 25 minutes on Thursday. But the Warriors held him to just four points the rest of the way.

“Allen-Eikens is a great player, he’s shown it in every game,” McKoy said. “But I think we let him get going with some easy ones early, and part of that is just all of us playing harder. That was just a testament of our coaches lighting a fire in me and saying, ‘Can you guard him? Can you get on this assignment?’ And I said, ‘Yeah,’ and my teammates helped me out and we were able to get him covered.”

After Bostick capped an 8-2 run to close it to 68-66 with a layup high off the glass with 2:34 remaining, JoVon McClanahan answered with a tough layup 30 seconds later to ignite UH to a 7-2 surge to close out the game.

“Credit to Hawai’i, they played good basketball, made shots when they had to, and that’s what this time of year is about,” CSUN coach Andy Newman said. “You gotta make shots, and Hawai’i did. They executed their offense, and I thought they played great and deserved to win. That’s a good team that we lost to today.”

The Warriors will face another good team Friday in UC Davis, which split the season series with UH including a 75-63 “Senior Night” home victory on Feb. 29.

In that game, Big West Player of the Year Elijah Pepper and All-Conference guard Ty Johnson each finished with 30 points.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” McKoy said. “I thought on their Senior Night, we started off the game kind of sloppy, we got off to a rough start and spotted them about eight or 10 points or something like that. We’re a way better team than that now. Like Coach said, we’ve improved in the last week since playing CSUN (on March 6), and we’ve improved so much since we played Davis at their place.

“So we’re going to embrace the challenge, we know they have two really good players that score a lot of points, All-Conference players. We’re going to accept the challenge and be fearless.”

Said da Silva:

“I feel like games like that are what we dream about — we’re playing not only two great players, but a great team. It’s an opportunity for us to show how much we’ve gotten better since we played them. We’re just really excited, it’s a big game, win or go home for both teams, and we can’t wait to play them. I feel like it’s going to be a really fun game.”

Hercules Tires Big West Championships (at Dollar Loan Center Arena, Henderson, Nev.)

Thursday’s quarterfinals

Hawai’i 75, Cal State Northridge 68
Long Beach State 86, UC Riverside 67

Friday’s semifinals

UC Irvine vs. Long Beach State, 3 p.m. (HST)
UC Davis vs. HAWAI’I, 5:30 p.m. (HST)

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