KEAAU — In the second half, Kamehameha senior Nalu Kahapea probably thought to himself, “Boys jump on my back because I’m carrying you guys to victory.”
The 6-5 forward scored the go-ahead basket and blocked the potential tying 3-pointer as the Warriors stiff-armed Keaau 51-45 in a BIIF Division I collision on Friday night at Koai’a Gym, earning not one but two gold stars.
Kahapea scored 16 points, all in the second half, Isaiah Nakoa-Oness added 13, and Kaupena Yasso had 11 points for the Warriors (9-0), who buried 50 percent (18 of 36) from the floor, including 4 of 13 from long distance. They sank 9 of 15 free throws.
Rico Handy scored 16 points, Isaiah Akana 11, and Patrick Mears had eight points to lead the Cougars (5-4), who shot 42 percent from the field (18 of 43), including 1 of 10 from 3-point territory. They made 8 of 9 free throws, helped by Handy’s 4 of 4 shooting from the line.
The Cougars played zone for most of the night and forced 23 turnovers, frustrating Kamehameha’s ball-handlers, but couldn’t really capitalize, only gaining a 6-0 edge on free gifts. Keaau had 13 turnovers and ran back on defense.
But hustle wasn’t enough, not with Kahapea, who resembles a linebacker, around to collect loose balls and change the game’s momentum.
In the fourth quarter, Nakoa-Oness missed the back end of a free throw, and Kahapea grabbed the rebound and scored. He was fouled and buried the free throw for a 47-45 lead with 1:56 to go.
Fast-forward to crunch time.
Yasso hit the back end of two free throws for a 48-45 lead with 16 seconds to play.
With 10 seconds left, Handy dribbled down court and tried to launch a 3-ball. But a 6-5 wall named Nalu Kahapea was standing in the way. Kahapea blocked the shot and hammered nails with 3 of 4 free throws.
Keaau has lost three in a row, but for pure entertainment purposes Handy put on a ball-handling clinic. He not only dribbled around the Warriors, often ice skating past double teams, but kept flying to the rim and finished with six layups. He also hit 4 of 4 free throws.
In the first quarter, Kamehameha was lucky to trail just 11-7 after committing nine turnovers. The Cougars, who ran at a furious pace, scored only once off those free gifts and missed numerous close-range shots. They shot 5 of 15 in the first eight minutes.
The Warriors got a better grip on Keaau’s 2-3 zone in the second quarter. Their ball-handlers didn’t fumble the ball and got entry passes for clean looks. Freshman guard Koby Tabuyo-Kahele asserted himself with an inside basket and a 3-pointer. Then Nakoa-Oness scored on a jump hook to push Kamehameha ahead 18-15.
Then it was Keaau’s freshman Johngunny Ramirez turn. He hit one of two free throws and followed with a fast-break layup, when the speedy guard beat Kamehameha’s transition defense down the court for an 18-18 halftime tie.
In the first half, the Cougars shot 29 percent (7 of 24) from the field while the Warriors countered at 53 percent (8 of 15) with too many empty possessions because of those pesky turnovers, 14 overall through two quarters, double Keaau’s giveaway total.
Halftime seemed to energize the two team’s top players: Kahapea and Handy, who both came out hungry.
Kahapea got comfortable at the elbow and scored six points while Handy had his dribble-penetration game in gear and scored eight points in the third quarter.
When Handy, a senior point guard, wasn’t crossing or taking his defender’s shoes off, he was at his ball-distribution best, finding open shooters.
With 37 seconds left, Handy attacked the rim and dished to Akana, who swished a 3-ball for a 35-32 lead that the visitors took into the fourth quarter.
In the final eight minutes, the only thing that stopped Handy from terrorizing Kamehameha’s man defense was his fourth personal foul.
After he picked a Warrior’s pocket and scored another layup for a 43-39 lead with 4:41 left, Handy quickly got tagged with his fourth foul and sat on the bench. He didn’t return until there was 1:56 remaining and Kamehameha ahead 47-45.
Keaau 11 7 17 10 — 45
Kamehameha 7 11 14 19 — 51
Honokaa 71, St. Joseph 24: The Dragons got balanced scoring at home, led by Kamuela Spencer Herring’s 14 points, to rebound from a home loss to Hawaii Prep 24 hours earlier.
Gene Ansagay added eight nine point for Honokaa (6-2) – which jumped out to a 44-15 halftime lead – and Kalai Ahuna had eight, keeping the Cardinals (0-7) winless.
Hawaii Prep 69, Pahoa 44: Michael Hughes scored 14 points and Jonah Hurney finished with 10 as host Ka Makani (6-2) won its fourth game in a row.
Jaymin Santiago-Burns powered the Daggers (2-7) with 25 points. Trailing 43-15 at halftime, Pahoa has lost six in a row.
Waiakea 63, Hawaii Prep 31: Kelsie Imai scored 21 points as the host Warriors wrapped up an 8-2 regular season.
The Warriors will reconvene at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hilo Civic for a showdown against rival Hilo in the BIIF Division I semifinals.
Ka Makani (3-7) will start Wednesday’s quadrupleheader off with 2:30 p.m. Division II semifinal against the top seed, most likely against Honokaa.