Shallow depth caught up with Hawaii at a bad time.
High Point went on a 20-3 run to close out a 62-54 victory over the Rainbow Warriors and claim the Outrigger Resorts Rainbow Classic championship early Tuesday morning.
UH (2-1) shot just 31.4 percent from the field and took its first loss under acting head coach Benjy Taylor.
The game tipped off just after midnight as part of ESPN’s annual College Hoops Tip-off Marathon. UH has participated in the event every year since 2008.
A rowdy “Blackout” crowd of 2,102 could not rally the ‘Bows to victory, as starting point guard Roderick Bobbitt fouled out with 3:21 to play, costing UH its primary playmaker down the stretch.
UH, which lost star forward Isaac Fotu to ineligibility and then to the pros in the preseason, played an eight-man rotation over the course of the tournament — three games in four days.
“Yeah, I sensed a little fatigue, mentally and physically,” Taylor said. “We’ll grow from this game and we’ll get better. That was a very experienced team we just played, we gotta give them a lot of credit. Down the stretch we just didn’t make the plays we needed to make, and the right decisions we needed to make.”
It is the first 3-0 start in the Division I era of High Point, which made the NIT last season out of the Big South Conference. The Panthers weathered a four-overtime 100-99 win over Cal State Bakersfield on Friday and beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff by 12 on Saturday to put themselves in position for the championship.
UH freshman Isaac Fleming tied it up at 53 with 2:16 to play. But HPU guard Adam Weary came back with a three-point play on a putback.
UH center Stefan Jovanovic was fouled on an offensive rebound, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw and the Panthers called timeout with 1:11 to go.
From there, HPU connected on free throws and UH went cold down the stretch. After Fleming’s basket, the hosts went 0-for-4 from the field, 1-for-3 from the free-throw line and gave up three offensive rebounds.
Fleming, who scored 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting, fouled out in the final minute.
“A lot of that had to do with us getting comfortable with the lead, and settling for stuff that we normally don’t do, stuff that didn’t get us the lead,” Fleming said with a sigh. “But it’s tough, it’s tough.”
Taylor’s team has little time to recover as UH hosts Division II Hawaii Hilo on Wednesday.
Starters Negus Webster-Chan, Aaron Valdes, Garrett Nevels and Bobbitt combined to shoot 3-for-27 from the field.
“We just tried to control the tempo, that was our deal,” HPU coach Scott Cherry said. “I wasn’t trying to stay in the 60s. I was trying to prevent them from getting runouts, shooting gaps, stealing the ball. Doing what they’re really good at, which is getting out in transition and making plays. … We tried to focus on Nevels, Webster-Chan and Valdes. We held them to (13) points (combined). Tremendous effort by our kids.”
Sophomore forward Mike Thomas, the fifth starter, scored all of his career-high 14 points in the first half. He was limited by foul trouble in the second period.
UH yielded a four-point halftime lead quickly. HPU went on a 14-1 spurt bridging the halves and claimed a five-point advantage.
The ‘Bows countered with a 16-2 spurt to lead 46-39 over the heart of the second half, capped off with an exclamation point by backup point guard Quincy Smith — a two-handed flush on a baseline drive with eight minutes left.
“We made that run, but it stalled a little bit at the end because, guys were tired, to be honest,” Thomas said.
HPU called timeout and settled down.
UH committed three straight turnovers and the Panthers capitalized with a 9-0 run to tie it up at 51 with four minutes left.
John Brown, HPU’s best player and the returning Big South Player of the Year, hit UH with a barrage of fadeaway jumpers and finished with a game-high 19 points en route to tournament MVP honors.
Bobbitt picked up his fourth foul and took a seat with 10:50 to play.
A breakout game from Thomas was put on hold when he picked up his third foul to start the second half. Thomas did not return until 6:40 remained in the game.
He came into the night with a career best of four points. He had that beat by the midpoint of the first half, and scored all of his 14 points in the period.
Taylor said playing freshman forward Sammis Reyes was not an option in his mind, as Reyes has only practiced twice with the team since he rejoined it on Thursday.
UH connected on just two of its first 12 shots.
Thomas scored 10 straight UH points over the heart of the first half. But he picked up his second foul with 5:44 left in the period and had to take a seat. Later in the half, Taylor substituted him offense-for-defense on two occasions.
UH carried a 31-27 lead at the break despite shooting just 29.6 percent (8-for-27) in the first half. Webster-Chan, who had been UH’s most consistent scorer over the first two games of the tournament, shot 0-for-6 in the period. Nevels made UH’s first shot of the game, a 3-pointer, but was off on his next four attempts.
Nevels and Webster-Chan were named to the all-tournament team.
The Rainbow Warriors fell to 4-3 in College Hoops Tip-off Marathon games.