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Vulcans’ Late Rally Falls Short in Loss to Point Loma

January 8, 2015, 5:12 PM HST
* Updated January 8, 5:14 PM
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GE Coleman’s University of Hawai’i at Hilo men’s basketball team continues to compete with the best teams in the PacWest Conference.

On Wednesday night, hanging with Point Loma Nazarene meant that the Vulcans had to rally back from a 19-point deficit just to have a chance to knock off one of the surging teams in the conference.

On this night, poor free throw shooting did UH-Hilo in, handing the Sea Lions’ their fifth straight victory in a 72-68 result at the UHH Gymnasium.

“That’s a tough one,” said Coleman in describing the loss. “That was a heck of an effort against that team in the second half.”

UH-Hilo (7-7 overall, 3-4 PacWest) trailed by 19 points late in the first half and again just three minutes into the second half. To make matters worse, Tre Johnson, the Vulcans’ leading scorer, left the game for good just minutes into the second half with a right ankle injury. He hurt it early in the first half, but returned later in the half and started briefly in the second half before sitting for good.

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“I thought the air kinda let out of us once Tre got hurt,” Coleman said. “He’s, in my opinion, the best player in our league, and I thought our guys, once that happened, didn’t know if they could do it without him, but I thought we proved that, next guy in, we could compete no matter who we have on the floor.”

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Without Johnson, the Vulcans took on a different identity. With Joey Rodriguez playing extended minutes in the second half, the Vulcans turned to a faster paced offense, similar to Coleman’s philosophy in his first season at the helm.

Slowly but surely, Point Loma’s lead whittled down to nine points when Yevgeniy Dyachenko drained a three-pointer with under seven minutes remaining to cut Point Loma’s advantage to 63-54. It was the start of a 7-0 run, which included a jumper from Vandyon Lockett and a pair of free throws by Darius Johnson-Wilson, that cut the gap down to 63-58.

UH-Hilo had two chances at the free throw line to tie the game. Joey Rodriguez missed the second of two free throws with 90 seconds remaining to keep the Vulcans within a point at 66-65. The senior guard shot 4-for-8 from the free throw line.

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With under 30 seconds left, Darius Johnson-Wilson had two free throw chances to tie the game at 69, but he missed the first shot, keeping his team behind by a point.

“A lot of coaches don’t like to talk about ’em. I talk about ’em.” said Coleman about his team’s free throw shooting. The Vulcans shot 14-for-24 from the foul line. “You gotta go up there and make them. We work on them every day. You’ve just gotta have the confidence to go up and make free throws. In a game like that, when you miss 10 free throws, you’re not gonna have success down the stretch.”

After Hayden Lescault hit two free throws on the other end, the Vulcans had a possession with a chance to get within a point again or tie the game. Johnson-Wilson, a post player who rarely lets the ball fly from the perimeter, ended up with the ball in the left corner and took a contested three-pointer that missed long. Randall Jackson sank one free throw on the other end to close the game out for Point Loma.

“That’s not the shot we wanted with Darius in the corner,” Coleman explained. “We were supposed to go to the rim on that.”

Point Loma (11-2, 4-2) was nearly unstoppable on the offensive end in the first half. Marek Klassen and Sam Okhotin each drained a three-pointer on their first two possessions, picking apart the Vulcans’ combination of zone defenses.

“They forced us to get out of that real quick,” said Coleman of his team’s zone defense.

The long ball was a key story in the opening half, helping the Sea Lions keep their distance from the home squad. Point Loma sank 8 of its 13 first half attempts from beyond the arc, and finished shooting 11-for-22 for the game. Okhotin shot 5-for-10 from distance, and Hayden Lescault and Judd Welfringer added a pair of treys.

Okhotin finished with 21 points while Lescault poured in 19. Welfringer added 10 points and eight rebounds. The Sea Lions outrebounded UH-Hilo 37-25.

Johnson-Wilson scored 17 points to lead the Vulcans. Lockett added 13 points and five assists, and Rodriguez added 12 points off of the bench in 27 minutes. Dominique Campbell followed with 10 points and four blocks.

Point Loma, receiving votes in the recent National Association of Basketball Coaches Division II Men’s Basketball Rankings, swept all three games on its Hawai’i swing and earned its fifth consecutive victory.

With the loss, UH-Hilo had its three game winning streak snapped. The Vulcans will head to the road to take on Dominican on Jan. 17.

Point Loma 41 31 – 72

Hawai’i-Hilo 26 42 – 68

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