Neither fatigue nor illness nor formidable Biola could keep UH-Hilo’s men’s basketball team from finding its comfort zone.
Sasa Vuksanovic scored a season-high 26 points Monday night as the Vulcans grinded out the kind of effort they’ll need in order to post a winning season, pushing for a 69-63 victory at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
“Considering all the circumstances, that was as close to a complete 40-minute game that we have played this year,” UHH coach GE Coleman said in a school release.
In many ways the contest was a battle of attrition.
Each team was playing for the third time in five nights, and the Eagles (9-5, 5-3 Pacific West Conference) were coming off a four-overtime win at Chaminade on Saturday. The Vuls (5-6, 4-5) still are being zapped by the flu bug. Guard Elisha Duplechan was a scratch, and forward Kupaa Harrison continues to have his energy sapped, though he gutted out a very respectable 10 points and six rebounds.
Vuksanovic and Kaleb Gilmore looked fresh.
Matched up against 7-footer Solomon Ruddell, Vuksanovic shot 10 of 14 for UHH, which knocked down 56% of its shots. Helping to fill the void left by injured starter Jordan Graves, Gilmore came off the bench to score 16 points, reaching double figures for the second consecutive game. He was 4 of 7 on from 3-point range, including two big shots as the Vuls took the lead for good.
“Sasa played a very smart game,” Coleman said. “He is really tough to handle because of the way he can work inside and out, and he passes so well.”
UHH, meanwhile, worked to clog the passing lanes during a key stretch in the second half, turning the tables on the Eagles, who beat the Vuls 74-56 last month in Southern California.
Consecutive baskets by Jalen Thompson tied the game 50-50, and after a free throw by guard Chris Rossow gave Biola it last lead, Gilmore hit two 3s sandwiched around a jumper by Vuksanovic to put UHH in front 58-54 with 5:14 remaining. The Vuls switched to a zone defense, picking up five steals in the final seven-plus minutes of the game, keying a 12-4 run.
“That might have been the turning point for us,” Coleman said.
Rossow scored 22 points, hitting 10 of 11 from the free throw line.
Thompson had six points and six rebounds,
The Vulcans will try to reach .500 on Thursday night against Dominican (2-10, 2-4) in the fourth of a five-game homestand.
“We have a couple of days now to try and rest and heal up, but we have another tough one coming up,” Coleman said.