A young Hawaii team continues to find new and impressive ways to succeed. That growing list now includes “winning ugly.”
The Rainbow Warriors survived a physical test from Central Michigan on ESPN and won the 47th Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic with a 65-62 decision early this morning at the Stan Sheriff Center.
UH prevailed before a rowdy “Blackout” crowd of 2,965 (6,054 tickets issued). The late-starting game, as part of ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-off Marathon, finished at 1:18 a.m.
It wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing game, with a combined 41 fouls, but the Rainbows pulled it out despite attempting only 39 field goals compared to 55 for CMU (1-2).
Led by new coach Gib Arnold, the Rainbow Warriors are 3-0 for the first time since the 2004-05 season, when they started 8-0 under Riley Wallace.
“I’ll win ugly any day. I hope we’re the ugliest winning team in America,” Arnold said. “But sometimes you gotta win ugly, and not be afraid to do that.”
Senior forward Bill Amis led Hawaii with 17 points and eight rebounds. Hiram Thompson added 15 points, Joston Thomas 14 and Zane Johnson 13.
Thompson, despite fouling out at a critical moment and committing seven turnovers, was named the tournament MVP. Amis and freshman guard Bo Barnes were also named to the all-tournament team.
UH committed 20 turnovers (eight more than the Chippewas), but made up for it by shooting 53.8 percent compared to 38.2 percent for CMU. The Rainbows also won the rebounding battle 28-23, a key statistic against the athletic visitors from the Mid-American Conference.
The Rainbows pulled ahead for good at 60-59 on a Zane Johnson runner with 3:57 to play. But it was far from over, as freshman guard Trey Zeigler (game-high 24 points) put the Chippewas on his back with another hoop.
Thompson, the reigning Western Athletic Conference Player of the Week, fouled out with UH up 63-61 when Derek Jackson stole UH’s inbounds pass coming out of a timeout with 47.4 seconds left. Thompson grabbed Jackson’s jersey as he blew past and was whistled for an intentional foul. Jackson made one of two foul shots, making it 63-62 UH with 44.5 seconds left.
Zeigler missed a contested shot on the ensuing possession. UH bled the clock down to 5.9 seconds, and Johnson was fouled. The junior guard missed the first free throw and made the second, putting UH up 64-62.
CMU called its last timeout. The Chippewas already had one game-winning 3-pointer in the tournament, but this time turned over the ball in the inbounds pass thanks to some pressure by freshman forward Trevor Wiseman.
“Trev’s one of our best defenders,” Amis said. “He guards me every day in practice. Pushes me really hard. I knew whenever we put him on (the inbounds man), he was going to be able to get a stop.”
Thomas was fouled with 4.2 seconds left, and made one of two. It was good enough as Jackson’s halfcourt heave hit off the side of the backboard.
For the “Blackout” night, the Rainbows fittingly wore their new black jerseys for the first time this season. The crowd ate it up.
“I’ve never won the Rainbow Classic, so it felt good to win that,” said Amis who shot 8-for-11. “We’re all excited. The fans were good. It was great. Great college atmosphere.”
UH looked to press the Chippewas three-quarter court early. The Rainbows twice went up by nine points, but CMU rallied with a 13-2 run and led 34-33 at halftime.
The Rainbows went with extensive zone defense, particularly after halftime.
“We saw when we did zone them, they struggled a little bit, so we stayed with it,” Arnold said. “It paid off in the end. Wasn’t very pretty. It was an ugly win, but I guess we’re playing at crazy hours in the morning, and we didn’t expect too much.”
CMU did an effective job of denying UH open looks on the perimeter. Barnes, who had 19 points in each of the first two games of the tournament, was held to two points.
But UH continued to run its sets and attack inside, earning numerous trips to the line in the second half; the Rainbows converted 15 of 20 from the stripe in the period.
“(Hawaii) did a good job taking blows and sustaining their game,” CMU coach Ernie Zeigler said. “They outrebounded us and we knew we had to do well in that area to win. I think they’re a better team than the last place in the WAC that was predicted.”
With a 3-0 start, Arnold became the first Hawaii coach since Bruce O’Neil in 1973 to win the first three games of his UH coaching career. O’Neil won his first 11 that year.
Tempers flared between Trey Zeigler and Johnson with UH up 39-38 with 14:54 left, when the two collided twice in the span of a few seconds. But after several lengthy discussions by the officials, a double tech was incredibly issued to Thompson, not Johnson, and Jalin Thomas, not Zeigler. It was Thompson’s fourth personal foul, and he was taken out of the game at a critical juncture.
“We knew we needed to pull together at that point, because Hiram’s our floor general. He’s our point guard,” Amis said. “And, I couldn’t believe that happened. Everyone knows Hiram’s a good guy, he wasn’t even in that at all. But the call was called.”
But freshman point guard Bobby Miles filled in ably. His fastbreak dish to Amis created a dunk and a 52-46 lead.
UH improved to 2-1 in ESPN’s Marathon games.