An emotional Big West battle for first place went the way of host Hawaii.
In a game that featured four technical fouls and three UH players fouling out, the Rainbow Warriors fended off visiting UC Davis, 77-72, in front of 4,868 on Saturday night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
UH (13-5, 4-1 BWC) all but sealed the win when Gibson Johnson leaked out against the Aggies’ desperate press and converted a three-point play with 28.8 seconds left. The Aggies (12-7, 3-2) hit a 3 to counter plus another layup, but Jack Purchase’s free throws with 12.8 seconds left iced it. Purchase led UH with 21 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
UH concludes its four-game homestand on Jan. 27 against Cal State Fullerton. The Titans lost at Long Beach State, meaning the battle between UH and UCD was to settle first place, for now.
The Rainbows were without guard Brocke Stepteau, their fourth-leading scorer, who fractured a finger on his right hand a week ago against UC Santa Barbara. Leland Green stepped into the starting lineup and contributed 11 points, including a huge 3 for a six-point lead with a minute left.
Davis’ Big West player of the year candidate, forward Chima Moneke, got swarmed in the post. He had 14 points, nine rebounds and a season-high nine turnovers. Point guard T.J. Shorts II scored 21 points for the visitors and Siler Schneider added 16.
UH led 39-35 at halftime thanks to 14 points from Purchase, who hit four 3s in the period. But Purchase was hit with his second and third personal fouls just before halftime on a moving screen, followed by a technical foul.
Davis tied it up at the start of the second half, but Mike Thomas converted his first shot and Sheriff Drammeh and Drew Buggs followed with 3-pointers for a 47-39 lead.
Moneke jammed it in transition, but Buggs responded with a three-point play.
Aggies coach Jim Les was given a tech in the second, followed shortly after by one to Drammeh, who threw the ball off Moneke’s face while falling out of bounds.