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Johnson-Wilson’s Buzzer-Beater Sinks ‘Swords

February 1, 2015, 12:57 AM HST
* Updated February 1, 1:00 AM
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It’s amazing what kind of difference a year can make.

Last season, GE Coleman’s University of Hawai’i at Hilo men’s basketball team hung tough with many of its foes, but didn’t know how to pull out victories when it mattered.

This year, Coleman’s Vulcans are now learning to win those games, even against some of the toughest teams in the PacWest Conference.

Darius Johnson-Wilson would be the hero Saturday night, draining a left-corner three-pointer with 0.6 seconds left on the clock to defeat rival Chaminade 88-85 at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.

“It was meant for Yev [Yevgeniy Dyachenko] to come off of a screen, he’s our best shooter, possible the best shooter in the league,” said Johnson-Wilson after the game, “or on a roll from Tre Johnson, arguably one of the best players in our league. I was wide open. Thanks to Van Lockett for the pass, and I knocked it down.”

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It was Johnson-Wilson’s fourth three-pointer of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a bigger time. UH-Hilo was riding a two-game winning streak, needing every win it could get to stay in the hunt for a spot in the PacWest Conference tournament.

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“Darius has really nice touch for a big kid like that,” said Coleman.

UH-Hilo (10-8 overall, 6-6 PWC) was in a rut with about seven minutes left in the game, trailing by 11, its largest margin of the game. The lead was cut down to nine before the Vulcans went on an 13-0 run to eventually take the lead. During that spurt, which lasted five-and-a-half minutes, the Silverswords lost its best player, Frankie Eteuati, who fouled out of the game with just over six minutes remaining.

Chaminade (8-10, 5-7) went cold once Eteuati fouled out of the game, missing its next five shots and going 0-for-2 from the free throw line. Kuany Kuany broke that stretch, hitting a basket with just about a minute left to tie the game at 83-83 with 1:10 remaining.

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Lockett untied it for UH-Hilo with a jumper along the left side of the lane to put the Vulcans ahead with 26 seconds left on the clock, but Chaminade’s Kevin Hu aggressively forced his way into the paint and into a trip to the free throw line, where he sunk two foul shots to even the score with 21.4 seconds remaining.

On the final possession, Lockett got himself caught in mid-air along the left side of the floor, leaving Johnson-Wilson in the corner for the game-winning opportunity. Earlier this year, the sophomore post player had a similar attempt to win a game, but had a much different result.

Johnson-Wilson scored 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and doled out three assists. He shot 8-for-14 from the floor in 30 minutes.

“It means a lot,” said Johnson-Wilson when asked about the importance of the win. “We were tied in the league for seventh, so now we set that apart. If they got the 0-2 lead on us, that would’ve set us back in the playoffs, so now, we get the momentum trying to make the playoffs.”

UH-Hilo remains in seventh, just one-and-a-half games behind Hawai’i Pacific University for the final spot in the PacWest Conference tournament. HPU has beaten the Vulcans twice this season.

Both teams played a quick and frantic first half, led in part by Joey Rodriguez, who infused his speed and quick instincts to turn up the pace of the game early. He carved a path tough path to the basket for a layup that put his team ahead 25-17 with 11:30 left in the opening half.

“He set the tone for us in the first half and was attacking the rim. He did a good job,” Coleman said.

Rodriguez missed the next time down, but got the ball back and found Dominique Campbell, who flushed the ball down with a dunk to put the lead back to eight a minute later.

Campbell scored 12 points off of the bench, shooting 6-for-8 from the floor. He also grabbed five rebounds in 19 minutes.

UH-Hilo had to endure the nightmare duo of Hu and Kuany, who combined for 51 points in the losing effort. Hu wouldn’t miss from beyond the three-point line, hitting all three of his long-range attempts en route to a 31-point night. He shot 10-for-13 from the floor and 8-for-10 from the free throw line.

Kuany, a versatile and athletic guard, scored 20 and grabbed eight rebounds. He contributed, however, to a dismal night from the free throw line for the Silverswords. Kuany shot just 5-for-9 from the charity stripe, and his team shot 16-for-29 for the game.

Chaminade didn’t have the services of guard Lee Bailey in the second half. No reason was given for Bailey’s absence from the lineup. He was held to six points in 15 minutes.

Tre Johnson, the PacWest’s second-leading scorer entering Saturday’s game, dropped a quiet, yet effective 24 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Lockett added 12 points and five assists.

With the win, UH-Hilo snapped a 13-game losing streak at the hands of Chaminade, dating back to March 2009.

The announced paid attendance of 513 was the largest of the season for UH-Hilo, riding on a faculty, staff, and student appreciation night for both UH-Hilo and Hawai’i Community College. Those who qualified, as well as family members who entered with them, got free admission to the game, meaning the actual attendance number was a few hundred people larger.

The task gets tougher for UH-Hilo. Next up is Azusa Pacific, tied for the top of the PacWest Conference standings with BYU-Hawai’i and ranked 14th in the country, according to the NABC Coaches Poll. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday night at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.

Chaminade 47 38 – 85

Hawai’i-Hilo 47 41 – 88

 

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