UH-Hilo coach GE Coleman promised his team’s season-opener would provide but a glimpse of things to come from a work-in-progress crew that is blending nine new faces with three returnees.
If this is what James Griffin and Larry Bush have in store for the rest of the season, things are looking up. The two senior transfers appear to be finished products.
The former Division I college basketball players each looked the part in scoring 23 points Monday in their Vuls debuts, and UHH wore down Alaska-Fairbanks 86-80 at Hilo Civic.
“I’ve been out for a year, coming back, it felt good to get my feet wet,” Bush said. “Got the early game jitters out, the butterflies, all that kind of stuff. Just kind of get a feel for a new team.”
Bush, who last played for UNLV in 2016-17, did his damage in just 23 minutes because of a cramp.
“I thought we were on the brink of breaking this thing open when Larry cramped up,” Coleman said. “He was cramping for about 10 minutes. He needs to be a guy that’s playing close to 30 minutes, not 20.”
Aushanti Potts-Woods’ jumper tied the game at 78-78 with 4:33 remaining, but that would be the last basket of the night for the Nanooks (0-3).
Griffin’s layup with 3:50 gave the Vuls the lead for good, and Bush made a layup and two free throws as the Vuls pulled away, allowing only one 3-pointer in the second half after Fairbanks made five in the first 20 minutes.
“It was a big thing for us being able to close,” Bush said. “It was a perfect first game, being able to go out there and play it tight in a close-knit dogfight.”
Michael Kluting led all scorers with 33 points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds – nine on the offensive end – for Fairbanks, which was on the last leg of its Hawaii trip. Potts-Woods ended up with 26.
Griffin shot 10 of 17, with six rebounds and four assists, and Bush went 8 of 11 as the Vuls shot 54.2 percent from the field, including 16 of 25 in the second half. Junior transfer Jordan Graves added nine points as nine different Vuls scored. One who didn’t, sixth man Kupaa Harrison, led the way with eight rebounds.
True freshman Jalen Thompson had eight, helping to pick up the scoring slack from senior Devin Johnson, who drew four fouls and saw limited playing time, scoring six points with a team-high seven rebounds.
“When you look almost our 11, like I told them in the locker room, it can be a different guy on a different night,” Coleman said. “We just had our best returning returning player play 15 minutes. But there is going to be time Devin is playing 35 minutes and Denhym (Brooke) is playing 15.”
The Vulcans will be back at Hilo Civic to host Simpson University of the NAIA on Thursday and Saturday.
The temperature in Fairbanks, Alaska, was 28 degrees Monday, but the Nanooks brought hot hands to the gym, shooting 16 of 25 in the first half.
A pair of layups by Griffin and a 3-pointer by Brooke from the top of the key that took a fortuitous bounce off the rim sparked an 11-0 run to give the Vuls a 20-12 lead.
Cleo Cain gave UHH its largest lead of the first half, 23-14, with a 3-pointer, but the Vuls missed their next seven shots and back-to-back 3-pointers by Alex Baham tied the game.
As the Vuls started turning the ball over, Kluting made three layups inside, and two free throws and a 3-pointer by Potts-Woods put the Nanooks ahead by seven points.
“I thought we started off very sluggish defensively,” Coleman said, “when we went to our bench, they really picked up the intensity, but we’ve got to find a way to defend without fouling.”
Bush followed with the first spurt of his Vuls career, hitting a jumper and two layups, and Griffin fed Brooke for a slam near the end of the first half horn, cutting the deficit to 39-37 as the teams went to the locker room.