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UH beats Northern Iowa in Diamond Head Classic opener

After learning of NCAA sanctions against the program early today, the University of Hawaii basketball team responded with a 68-52 win over Northern Iowa in the first round of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic tonight at the Stan Sheriff Center.

With the win before a season-high crowd of 6,313, the Rainbow Warriors (8-1) advanced to the DHC semifinals to face No. 3 Oklahoma at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The Sooners will be the highest-ranked opponent UH has faced since defeating No. 2 Kansas in the 1997 Rainbow Classic.

Northern Iowa (7-4) plays Washington State in the consolation bracket at 6:30 p.m. Auburn takes on Harvard in the other semifinal at 11:30 a.m.

Aaron Valdes led four UH players in double figures with 15 points. Sai Tummala hit three 3-pointers in a 12-point performance and Isaac Fleming finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and six steals.

With starting center Stefan Jankovic (eight points) in foul trouble much of the night, Stefan Jovanovic contributed 11 points and nine rebounds and blocked a career-high four shots.

Earlier today, the NCAA announced sanctions against UH, including a postseason ban for the 2016-17 season, stemming from an investigation into violations committed during former coach Gib Arnold’s tenure.

The Rainbow Warriors then opened the tournament against a Northern Iowa team that defeated then-No. 1 North Carolina on Nov. 21 and knocked off No. 5 Iowa State last Saturday.

The Rainbow Warriors and Panthers went a combined 8-for-14 from long range in the game’s first eight minutes. Four of UH’s first five baskets came from behind the arc with Tummala hitting two after coming in off the bench.

UNI’s Paul Jespersen also hit two 3-pointers and the Panthers led 25-24 before UH went on a 10-0 run to close the first half.

Quincy Smith gave UH the lead with a scoop shot then hit his second 3-pointer of the season. Valdes added a 3-pointer from the top and two Fleming free throws gave the Rainbows a 34-25 lead going into halftime.

UH maintained a seven-point lead with 10 minutes left before breaking away on a 16-2 run.

With the Rainbows ahead 59-47, Fleming came up with steals on three consecutive UNI possessions leading to breakway layups. He was fouled on the third and his free throw gave UH a 66-47 lead with 4:44 left.

UH maintained control the rest of the way to win its DHC opener for the third time in the tournament’s seven years.

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