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Vulcans’ Comeback Falls Short in Season Finale

February 28, 2016, 8:33 AM HST
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UH-Hilo's Ryan Reyes goes up for a shot against Azusa Pacific on Saturday. UH-Hilo photo.

UH-Hilo’s Ryan Reyes goes up for a shot against Azusa Pacific on Saturday. UH-Hilo photo.

The motto of the University of Hawai’i at Hilo men’s basketball team has been that it grinds out games until the very end, no matter how big the deficit might be.

With its postseason hopes hanging in the balance, however, UH-Hilo couldn’t quite complete a 24-point second half comeback, falling to Azusa Pacific by the final score of 85-75.

The loss ended UH-Hilo’s season at 9-15 overall and 9-11 in the PacWest Conference. The Vulcans were part of a four-way tie for the final spot in the conference tournament entering Saturday, and right before tip-off, the scenario to get in to the tournament was simply to win, thanks to Dominican’s win over Fresno Pacific and favorable tiebreakers over the Penguins and Chaminade University, the other team in the tie-breaker.

“You hoped you could get to the point where you could play your best game in this position, but we just didn’t play very well tonight,” UH-Hilo coach GE Coleman said after the game. “I thought we played hard. We just didn’t play very well.”

Azusa Pacific (21-7, 15-5) won the PacWest Conference championship for the second season in a row with the victory. The Cougars were in a four-way tie at the top of the standings, but won the tiebreaker based on head-to-head record against teams with the same record they had.

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Down 20 points with less than 5:20 remaining in the game, UH-Hilo mounted a desperate comeback. The Vulcans employed a full-court pressure defense that forced three turnovers, which turned into a 6-0 scoring response to cut the deficit down to 14 points. Later, Parker Farris hit a three-pointer from well behind the arc to trim APU’s lead to eight, 80-72, with under 90 seconds remaining. After a Cougars free throw, senior Salim Gloyd nailed a trey from the top to bring the deficit down to six.

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Gloyd’s three would be the last that UH-Hilo would hit, as two turnovers and a missed shot kept the rally from continuing.

Azusa Pacific presented challenges for UH-Hilo’s offense, with size up and down the lineup and physicality underneath. It bothered the Vulcans, who shot 28.6 percent in the first half (8-for-28) and 33.9 percent for the game (21-for-62).

“We didn’t make shots, so naturally, you start to press a little bit. We weren’t getting great shots, but we had a lot of chippys, too, that we usually make in the paint and we didn’t make those,” Coleman explained. “Consequently, we didn’t win.”

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A deep bench was key for Azusa Pacific, where UH-Hilo has routinely played just seven players in its main lineup. The Cougars’ bench delivered 37 points, led by LyDell Cardwell’s 18 on 7-for-10 shooting. APU also shot well from beyond the arc, draining half of its 22 shot attempts.

Bruce English scored 16 points to lead Azusa Pacific’s starting unit, while freshman Connor Peterson added 15 and Petar Kutlesic dropped 12 and seven rebounds.

It was an emotional ending to the careers of seniors Jordan Russell, Salim Gloyd, Vandyon Lockett, and Nate Walker. Each spent every ounce left of what they had in the comeback, and the heartbreak was visible to all after the game.

“This year did not go as planned. You could probably go back to July when Tre [Johnson] decided to turn pro,” Coleman said. “Through injuries and other things, they stuck with it and kept playing hard, and I would say this is a resilient group. We’ve taken another step forward, maybe not record-wise this year, but in trying to lay the foundation and have an identity of what we’re going to be as a program.

Gloyd, who only played for a majority of this season in Hilo after transferring from the University of Indianapolis, led all scorers with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Parker Farris added 18 points before fouling out, and Lockett, a two-year senior in the program, scored 10 points and dished five assists.

UH-Hilo has missed the PacWest Conference tournament in each of the first four seasons of the event’s existence. Azusa Pacific will meet the winner of Thursday’s Hawai’i Pacific/Dominican matchup on Friday at 5 p.m. Pacific time.

Azusa Pacific 43 42 – 85

Hawai’i-Hilo 33 42 – 75

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