There is always an inevitable hint of finality on senior day, but matters went to the extreme for UH-Hilo.
No final blows were landed Saturday, just a pair of damaging ones to the Vulcans’ men’s basketball postseason chances. UHH appeared to have worked past its woeful shooting issues but it never could get past Hawaii Pacific’s pre-eminence on boards, absorbing a 62-55 loss at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
And the bad news came in twos: Academy of Art pulled off an unexpected surprise, beating Concordia to tie the Vuls for the sixth and final spot in the Pacific West Conference playoffs, for which the Urban Knights own the tiebreaker.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves, we’re still alive,” Vuls coach GE Coleman said.
While the simple explanation is that some times the shots just don’t fall, they better start falling in a hurry. The Vuls likely will have to win out, Thursday at high-scoring Chaminade and a rematch at HPU next Saturday, on the road to have a chance to secure their first playoff spot.
“You can’t be too hard on them,” Coleman said. “They missed shots, it’s not like they didn’t play hard, they were flying around defensively. We missed wide-open shots. Truth be told, we probably settled for 3s sometimes.”
He read aloud the shooting totals: 37.3% from the field, 3 of 19 on 3s and 8 of 14 from the line.
“Not going to beat too many teams like that,” Coleman said.
The Vuls made only 6 of 24 in the first half and trailed by nine at the break. They fell behind by as many as 13 before juniors Elisha Duplechan and Sasa Vuksanovic led a spirited comeback, each scoring 13 of their 16 points in the second half. With leading scorer Kupaa Harrison on the bench with three fouls – the first two coming on charges – Duplechan and Vuksanovic at times looked like two men ready to take in the Sharks all by themselves.
They combined for 10 consecutive points, and after a 3-pointer by Jalen Thompson cut the deficit to 40-37, a jumper by Duplechan and consecutive layups inside by Vuksanovic, the first off an assist from Duplechan, boosted the Vuls in front 41-40.
The seesaw battle continued.
Duplechan fed Vuksanovic for a basket and a 49-47 lead with 4:31 remaining, and Vuksanovic returned the favor, leading to Duplechan’s layup and 51-49 advantage. The joint was jumping when Duplechan passed in the paint to Vuksanovic, who instead of shooting fed Harrison for a driving layup and a one-point lead with 1:58 remaining.
David Rowlands hit two free throws for the Sharks, but Vuksanovic answered again with a layup off a Duplechan pass.
Then the seesaw battle ended.
UHH forced a stop, but 6-foot-11 Chidozie Ndu grabbed his 15th and final rebound and made a putback, and the Vuls missed their final five shots.
HPU actually shot a tad worse than UHH, but the Sharks commanded a 46-27 rebounding advantage, including 14 offensive boards.
“We get up by one, and (Ndu) got the rebound,” Coleman said. “In a tight game, you can’t give up those points.
“It seemed liked we have them on the ropes and they’d grab an offensive rebound.”
Harrison scored 11 points with eight rebounds in his final home game before fouling out and drawing a nice hand from the crowd, and Duplechan added six rebounds and four assists. Senior Kaleb Gilmore made only 1 of 9 and scored two points.
Daniel Melifonwu led HPU with 13 points, Rowlands added 12, Ronald Blain added 11 and Ndu had 10.
“We have two games left, we have to get after them,” Coleman said. “We’re going to have to play better.”