Warriors will face CSUN in Big West quarters

Hawai’i senior guard Noel Coleman and the Warriors will again square off against CSUN forward De’Sean Allen-Eikens at 3 p.m. HST Thursday in the Hercules Tires Big West Championship quarterfinals in Henderson, Nev. (Matt Osumi file photo)

HENDERSON, Nev. — The University of Hawai’i’s first opponent in the Hercules Tires Big West Conference Men’s Basketball Championships was not revealed until the 11th hour, literally.

After 45 minutes of dramatic game action, Cal State Northridge finally held off UC Santa Barbara, 87-84, in overtime at around 11:20 p.m. local time Wednesday in first-round action on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

A sparse crowd of 717 in 5,000-seat Dollar Loan Center Arena watched birthday boy Keonte Jones score 24 points and grab nine rebounds and De’Sean Allen-Eikens add 23 points and four assists as the Matadors improved to 19-14 and advanced to Thursday’s 3 p.m. (HST) quarterfinal against UH (19-13).

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

CSUN led, 87-84, against UCSB after Allen-Eikens sank two free throws with 4.5 seconds remaining, and Ben Shtolzberg’s potential game-tying 3-pointer from just a few feet beyond the top of the arc rimmed out as the horn went off.

“I thought this was a really hard-fought game with two really talented teams throwing haymakers at each other,” Matadors coach Andy Newman said. “Credit to Santa Barbara, they made some great plays and great shots down the stretch, and I thought we responded. Just a really fun game to be a part of. Games like that, you feel like you win ’em and lose ’em seven different times in the same game. I’m sure they feel the same way on their end.

“So we’re just very fortunate that we came out on top, and looking forward to playing again tomorrow.”

In local time, “tomorrow” meant just 20 minutes from when he spoke. But Newman said he is confident in his team’s ability to recover quickly.

“It’s gonna be a great game,” Newman said. “And again, it’s March. We’ve been thinking about this tournament since August. We’ll be ready to go. We could tip that thing up in 20 minutes, and these guys will be ready to go. There’s no time for anything other than being the best version of yourself, and I have no doubt in my mind these guys will be ready to go a six o’clock.”

For Hawai’i, earning the first-round bye was huge since the Warriors ended their regular season at home last Saturday and had to fly to Las Vegas on Sunday. In past years, UH ended the Big West season in California and would take a short flight to Sin City.

“It helps, everybody wants the bye,” Warriors coach Eran Ganot said late Tuesday afternoon. “This was the first time we ended (the regular season) at home, we had an emotional Senior Night on Saturday, got in here (Las Vegas) late Sunday night. So Monday was a recharge day, we did some weights, and then (Tuesday) we wanted to get after it in practice.”

The extra day also meant an extra practice Wednesday at Foothill High School in Henderson, and allowed for study hall in the hotel that afternoon.

It also afforded Ganot a chance to attend a rooftop UH rally in downtown Las Vegas at the Taverna Costera restaurant, sponsored by Koa Anuenue and featuring the school’s band and Rainbow Dancers, with about 40 or 50 fans in attendance.

“What a great turnout, it’s nice to leave home and (still) feel like you’re coming home,” Ganot told the crowd. “I’m just thankful for all your support today and over the years, through ups and downs, and we’ve certainly had some of that this year. We’re working out tail off to make sure you guys can continue to be proud of us with our effort this week.”

Senior forward Justin McKoy, who just won All-Big West Second Team honors on Tuesday in his first year with Hawai’i after transferring from North Carolina, said his Warriors teammates have told him about UH annually having by far the largest and most vocal crowd at the Big West Championships.

“I’m excited to see how our fans turn out for the game,” said McKoy, who said he also will have cousins who live in the Las Vegas area attending Thursday night. “It’s super fitting that we’re the one team that has to travel the farthest distance, everyone else can just drive, but (the big Hawai’i presence) is special because it gives us that advantage that we honestly need.”

Ganot said UH’s reliable support in the conference tournament is noticeable and important.

“When we say we stay together, that means our fans, too,” Ganot said. “When we come out here, as we get closer to game day we see familiar faces, and then more familiar faces … and then at the actual event you hear our band, the cheerleaders, see the (Rainbow) dancers … it’s like we’re one big family on this road trip, and it’s something we don’t take lightly. We really appreciate it.”

As far as the game against CSUN itself, the Warriors will need to find a way to limit Allen-Eikens, who scored a career-high 34 points in a 72-70 loss to UH in Honolulu just last Wednesday.

“I would just say it’s March, and anybody can beat anybody,” said Allen-Eikens, a versatile 6-6 senior forward. “We split the regular season series, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

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