The 2018-19 UH-Hilo men’s basketball team seemingly loves to live dangerously.
On Sunday night, the Vulcans were able to exhale, and thus plenty of life remains.
Larry Bush scored 19 points and Kupaa Harrison was huge late with eight of his 14 points in the final three minutes as the Vuls held off Dominican 83-79 at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
“We just talked about finding a way,” coach GE Coleman said after his team avoided a third straight home loss. “We really needed this. It doesn’t matter if it’s by one point or 20.”
UHH (10-10, 8-8 Pacific West Conference) is back at .500 and back in sixth place, by a half-game, in the race for the sixth and final spot in the conference tournament.
Bush’s putback off his own missed shot gave the Vuls the lead for good at 73-71 with 3:34 remaining, but it was Harrison who came up clutch time and again, including a three-point play to push the lead to four points.
“Without Kupaa there is no way we win this game,” Coleman said. “He was the best player on the court the last five minutes.”
The Vuls forced 16 turnovers.
A loss was a non-starter since the Vuls begin a tough four-game road trip later this week, and it looked like UHH could be headed for defeat as the Penguins (7-17, 3-15) shot 7 of 14 from 3-point range and led by as many as six in the second half.
The game was much closer than the team’s first meeting in January in Northern California, a 75-54 UHH romp in which Dominican committed a school-record 38 turnovers.
But any win was imperative, considering the Vuls came in after losing two close home games to Biola and Academy of Art with first-place Point Loma on tap on the road Thursday.
“It feels good to get the monkey off our back and win a close game at home,” Coleman said. “We knew this would be a different game than before, and we just had to find a way to win, and we did.”
Cedric Thomas led all scorers with 20 points for the Penguins and posted nine assists.
James Griffin added 16 for UHH and Jordan Graves had a key steal and layup and finished with 10, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“They never give up,” Coleman said. “They’re not always very smart, but that’s on me. They always play hard.”
• Dominican 76, UHH 60: Natalie Diaz, the third leading scorer in Division II, showed off her game with 33 points and 14 rebounds, and the Penguins used a 15-0 fourth quarter run to pull away from a UHH team that had won three of four.
Malia Lee’s 3-pointer put the Vuls (7-13, 4-12) ahead 57-55 early in the fourth quarter, but Vanessa Cruz answered with a 3-pointer to put Dominican (19-3, 2-6) ahead for good.
The Vuls were 7 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half, but Dominican used a 12-0 run to lead 44-41 at the half.
Allie Navarette paced UHH with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Lee had 11 points and Sara Shimizu finished with seven assists and six rebounds.