The Hawaii men’s basketball team could not make a fast start stand up in a 66-62 loss at UC Riverside’s SRC Arena on Saturday night.
It was a back-and-forth battle for much of the second half, but the Highlanders took the lead in the final few minutes and UH (13-6, 1-2 Big West) was unable to answer in its first game playing on an opponent’s home court this season.
UH was without starters Garrett Nevels (hand surgery) and Negus Webster-Chan (virus). Big men Stefan Jovanovic and Stefan Jankovic stepped into the starting lineup.
Jankovic responded with a season-high 17 points, including 11 in the first half. Freshman Isaac Fleming added 15 off the bench, but leading scorer Aaron Valdes tied a season low with two points on 1-for-12 shooting. Valdes was coming off a career-best 34 points last Saturday against Cal State Northridge.
Point guard Roderick Bobbitt had 10 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals in the loss.
UH forced 23 turnovers on UCR, but shot just 35 percent.
The Rainbow Warriors got off to a quick start with their ball pressure, but a double-digit first half lead was reduced to three by halftime and the Highlanders (9-9, 2-2) claimed the lead just two minutes in the second half.
Jankovic tied it up with a runner with two minutes left, but Jaylen Bland came back with a step-back 3-pointer for a 61-58 UCR lead.
Jankovic got fouled with 1:19 to play and made both to cut it to one.
UCR missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw but Valdes could not secure the rebound inbounds and it went back to the Highlanders.
UCR drained clock and missed on a drive, but it again went back to UCR out of bounds. Bobbitt was called for a foul on Steven Thornton with 29.5 seconds left.
Thornton (game-high 22 points) converted both for a 63-60 lead.
UH went for the quick two and Bobbitt made two foul shots to make it a one-point game with 22.6 seconds left.
UH fouled immediately and Bland converted both to up the lead back to three.
Bobbitt had a shot blocked out of bounds with 15.5 seconds left. Fleming went for a fadeaway 3, but it was off the mark and Bobbitt fouled out to stop the clock with 9.8 seconds left.
UCR went 1-for-2 at the line to seal it. It was the Highlanders’ first conference victory over UH in the Rainbows’ three years in the Big West.
UH built a 13-point first-half lead as Jankovic scored 11 quick points. But the Highlanders made a run late in the period and drew within 31-28 at halftime.
The Rainbows resume play at home on Thursday against league leader UC Davis (14-3, 4-0).