The University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team got off to torrid start then held off a huge rally to hang on for a 81-78 win over North Dakota on day two of the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic Sunday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
With the win, UH improved to 2-0 on the young season and put themselves in position to capture the Rainbow Classic title when they face Troy Monday night at 7 p.m. in the final game of the round-robin tournament. The Trojans (1-1) defeated Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 81-57, in the day’s first game.
Senior Mike Thomas led Hawai’i by posting a career-high 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting, while also adding 11 rebounds. Leland Green added 18 points, while Brocke Stepteau added 10 points and five assists.
UH never trailed in the game but had to endure some nerve-wracking moments late into the game. Behind a focused and high-energy start on both ends of the court, UH built a double-digit lead less than five minutes into the game and increased its lead to as many as 22 points in the first half.
The Rainbow Warriors eventually took a 15-point lead into the locker room behind 60 percent shooting and 19 points from Thomas. But UND (1-1) started the second half on a 15-4 run to cut UH’s lead to just four and from there on out it would be a dog fight.
UH built its lead back to double-digits a number of times, but a scrappy Fighting Hawk squad wouldn’t back down and eventually got within one, 79-78, with 32 seconds left. After a Stepteau free throw gave UH a two-point cushion with 20 seconds left, UND had a chance to win the game but Jafar Kinsey’s three-pointer in the waning seconds fell off the mark. Gibson Johnson’s ensuing free throw with 1.4 seconds gave UH a three-point lead and the the UH win was only secure after UND’s desperation heave from three-quarters court bounced off the backboard at the buzzer.
The ‘Bows ended up shooting 51 percent from the floor, but sealed the win on the free throw line where they scored their final eight points. UH also enjoyed a 36-27 advantage on the glass.
North Dakota, an NCAA Tournament team last year, was led by the duo of Geno Crandall (21 points) andMarlon Stewart (18).