Men’s basketball: Riding high at home, Vuls upset Concordia

  • RICK OGATA Tom Power puts up a shot Thursday night during the Vulcans’ 71-61 victory against Concordia.

It’s an interesting subplot to each UH-Hilo men’s basketball season, at least from the outside.

Where will they play?

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Home is Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium and that’s where the Vulcans spent their heyday in the 1970s drawing big crowds, but some might argue the school gymnasium offers a cozier venue and a better atmosphere more adept at riling opposing teams in a confined space.

UHH called its gym home for a spell under a former athletic director, and even after that decision was reversed, the school usually plays at least one game on campus each year, though this season there are none scheduled.

At the rate things are going, the Vuls are never going back.

Hilo Civic is magical again, the latest evidence coming Thursday night in UHH’s 71-61 victory against preseason Pacific West Conference favorite Concordia. The Vulcans (8-8, 6-6 PacWest) are tied for sixth and contending for a postseason berth, and it’s pretty cut and dry why: They’re 6-1 at home and 0-6 on the road.

“We really enjoy playing at home,” Vulcans coach GE Coleman said in a school release. “Our community support is great, and the guys really respond to that.”

Senior forward Kupaa Harrison responds well to any atmosphere. Harrison scored 24 points, including baskets on three consecutive possessions to give UHH a 57-50 lead. After the Eagles (13-6, 7-3) scored the next four points, Kaleb Gilmore scored three consecutive times — his 3-pointer and four free throws gave the Vuls a a 66-54 lead with 1:11 to go.

Playing in front of a crowd of 555, this one was on ice.

“We had so many outstanding performances tonight,” Coleman said. “We had great play off the bench and everyone contributed.”

Point guard Damani Whitlock collected 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists, Tom Power grabbed nine boards to help UHH win the rebounding battle (39-37), and Gilmore’s 11 points represented his seventh straight game in double figures.

UHH didn’t get huge production from second-leading scorer Sasa Vuksanovic (eight points, three rebounds), it was an anemic 1 for 12 from 3-point range, but it was at home, which is where the Vuls will be for the next three contests, including Monday night against Holy Names (3-7).

Concordia, which lit the Vuls up for 95 points on 59% shooting at its place in December, shot just 38% on Thursday night.

Seeking its first trip to the six-team PacWest tournament, UHH is tied with Hawaii Pacific, and each are a full game behind Biola.

The Vuls still have both games remaining with the Sharks, who visit Hilo Civic for a matinee Feb. 22. HPU still has a nasty road trip ahead of them (Azusa Pacific, Concordia, Biola and Point Loma) in mid-February.

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UHH and HPU finish the season Feb. 29 in Honolulu.

Maybe by then the Vulcans will have figured out how to spread their magic to the road.

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