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HPU wins first PacWest title

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COURTESY HAWAII PACIFIC UNIVERSITY

HPU, ranked sixth nationally, will compete in the NCAA Division II playoffs after winning its first PacWest tournament title by beating Point Loma Nazarene 82-73 Saturday at Concordia University.

IRVINE, Calif. >> The story of Hawaii Pacific’s latest accomplishment in men’s basketball began at the PacWest Conference’s tournament last year, when the Sharks suffered a 96-78 loss to BYU-Hawaii in the first round.

“We had a bitter feeling against BYU,” guard Chauncey Orr said. “But I think ever since then — in the summer, throughout the whole season, through every practice — we’ve just been battling.”

One year and one day after that defeat, exhilaration replaced exasperation.

HPU, ranked sixth nationally, will compete in the NCAA Division II playoffs after winning its first PacWest tournament title by beating Point Loma Nazarene 82-73 Saturday at Concordia University.

“I’ve been here for four years, and I’ve been dreaming of this since Day One,” guard Connor Looney said. “I don’t even have the words for it. Four years ago, we were fighting just to get into the tournament.”

The Sharks (28-2) will make their first NCAA appearance since 1999, when they first became eligible for postseason competition upon moving from the NAIA.

But to fulfill Looney’s dream, top-seeded HPU had to repel the sixth-seeded Sea Lions (17-13), who relied on outside shooting to take an 11-5 lead in the first 3:39.

The Sharks responded by using a 19-8 surge to move ahead 24-19 with 9:36 left in the first half. Guard Devin Riley came off the bench to score seven points, including a three-point shot that forced a 16-16 tie.

“Devin gives us great energy,” HPU coach Darren Vorderbruegge said. “He’s long and athletic, and he likes to play defense. He hit a 3, which is not his strength. But, boy, we needed that.”

Defensively, Vorderbruegge had Looney guard Point Loma’s Mike Planeta, who made 16 of 33 shots from 3-point range in his five previous games.

Planeta hit two 3-pointers in the first 3:29 — and did not score again until 9:51 remained in the game. By that time, HPU held a 58-47 lead.

“He has been playing as well as anybody in our league in the last two weeks,” Vorderbruegge said about Planeta, a former minor league pitcher. “He can get hot and he tends to score in bunches. But I thought we kept him in check.”

Orr then dominated the second half. After taking just three shots and scoring only two points in the first half, Orr erupted for 21 points by converting seven of 11 field-goal attempts, including three of four beyond the 3-point arc.

The transfer from Bowling Green made his biggest impact by scoring nine points during a 13-2 blitz that expanded the Sharks’ advantage to 53-37 with 13:37 to play.

Orr finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks before receiving the award as the tournament’s most valuable player. Looney contributed 19 points and joined Orr on the all-tournament team, as did Chaminade’s Rohndell Goodwin and Austin Pope.

Planeta and Zach Burnham scored 15 points apiece for Point Loma, while Josh Rodriguez added nine assists.

In the women’s final Saturday, top-seeded Cal Baptist added the tournament title to its regular-season championship by beating Point Loma 80-72. HPU’s Gabriella Fotu made the women’s all-tournament team.

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