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Faithful in Laie can look forward to more from BYUH

Dave Reardon

It didn’t take long.

Just 1 second from utter frustration to sincere appreciation.

Quickly after the realization that it was over — the final opportunity frittered, the dream extinguished — the Brigham Young-Hawaii fans broke into long, steady clapping. A round of applause for their team that made it to within one basket of no-one-left-to-beat and a national championship. Cheering that the Seasiders couldn’t hear, but you know that they felt all the way in Springfield, Mass., about 5,000 miles away from Laie … but much closer by Jet.

Tsung-Hsien "Jet" Chang brought the national championship game, and nearly the title itself, to the North Shore via network TV. When CBS posted a graphic comparing Chang’s stats to those of that other BYU guard, the 300 red-clad fans in the Cannon Activities Center roared their approval. Hey, big brothers in Provo … Jimmer’s done, Jet’s still playing.

Chang finally missed again after making nine of his first 10 shots. "Too open," yelled a voice from the Cannon seats.

In the end, his 35 points — augmented by 17 from Kahuku grad Okesene "Junior" Ale — weren’t enough. The Siders had plenty of chances down the stretch but threw them all away. Bellarmine of Louisville, Ky., was ragged, too, but held on to win 71-68.

Marques Whippy’s hard-nosed play was the perfect complement to Chang’s explosive offense as BYUH sliced through its postseason opponents. But the Squeegee from Fiji (Whippy cleaned the glass at a nation-leading 12 rebounds per game) had a subpar, foul-plagued game. When he got tagged with his fourth foul early in the second half, Bellarmine gained a huge advantage. Chang also had to sit some key minutes with foul trouble.

There was no adjustment for veteran coach Ken Wagner to make, unless on-court IVs are allowed. Six turnovers in the final minutes? One explanation, fatigue.

Everyone from the top on down knew this team that finished third in the PacWest Conference did everything it could, but fell just short of Hawaii’s second college basketball national championship.

"They represented us well," a beaming BYUH president Steven Wheelwright told a student reporter. I just wish they could’ve made one more basket."

THINGS YOU DON’T expect to hear while watching a college basketball game: "Are you going to breakfast after this?"

The Seasiders have fewer reasons to sleep in on Saturday mornings than many typical college students … but, yes, they are college students, and who wants to get up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday anyway? And if the game’s on network TV, why walk to Cannon to watch?

That’s a silly question for three freshmen who come from the same country as Chang. They’re not so much basketball fans as they are Jet Chang fans. He’s their Bieber.

"We still love him," said Lindy Cheng, moments after the giant screen went dark and the crowd dispersed from the ultimate matinee. "He’s the light of Taiwan."

Rena Chen and volleyball player Erh Fang Hsu join Cheng in hoping that since basketball is over Chang will have time to join them and around 50 other members at BYUH’s Taiwan Club events.

Anthony Siilata came with friends to support his fellow Kahuku basketball alumni, Ale and Christian Feagai. He was not surprised to see Ale fill up the basket in a big game.

"That’s always been him," Siilata said. "He’s always the guy to step up and pick up the team. He’s from here, he’s one of our boys. I was a sophomore when he was a senior. We all looked up to him.

"It’s too bad. They had a couple of chances at the end, more than two."

WE ALL KNOW the North Shore is football and surfing country. The road to Laie is lined by many more shrimp trucks than basketball hoops. Still, BYUH nearly added a national championship basketball banner to the 22 in the rafters for volleyball, tennis and rugby.

The Seasiders congregated and they saw their brothers fight to the final seconds against a team from bluegrass, bluebood, b-ball turf. They walked out disappointed, but smiling. Most of a beautiful Saturday still lay ahead of them.

And some realized that Jet and Junior and eight of their teammates are eligible for at least one more season at Cannon, in the flesh.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.


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