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Hawaii finds touch, toughness late to beat Northern Arizona

Stephen Tsai
                                Hawaii’s Juan Munoz sought an open man against Niagara’s Kwane Marble Jr. on Thursday.
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Hawaii’s Juan Munoz sought an open man against Niagara’s Kwane Marble Jr. on Thursday.

A little patience and a lot of Mor Seck boosted the Hawaii basketball team to Tuesday night’s 70-61 victory over Northern Arizona.

Because it was considered a separate event, a crowd of 1,559 had to wait for the conclusion of the Allstate Maui Invitational to be admitted into SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. Tip-off was at 8:35 p.m.

Fans had to wait a little longer for the ’Bows’ high-entertainment plays.

But halfway through the second half, UH guard Juan Munoz dusted off his long-range shooting. Munoz, an eighth-year senior, transferred to UH from Longwood in August 2021. But he missed his first two UH seasons because of injuries to his ACL and then Achilles.

After missing his first five shots from behind the arc, Munoz buried a 3 from the top of the key to make it 52-46 with 9:50 to play. After the Lumberjacks’ Trent McLaughlin hit two free throws, Munoz answered with a 3 from the left corner. Soon after, Matthue Cotton, a transfer from Yale, swished a 3 to give the ’Bows elbow room at 58-48.

“Man, it took a while,” said Munoz, who finished with 10 points. “I’ll take it.”

Although he has fully recovered from the Achilles injury, Munoz said he is taking it “day by day” in his preventive treatments. “I don’t want to skip any steps,” Munoz said.

Associate head coach John Montogmery said Munoz’s defense, which relies on sturdy and agile footwork, has continued to improve with the strengthening of the ankle. “It’s been a process for him,” said Montgomery, noting Munoz was proficient in steals when he played at Longwood.

Patience also was a necessity as the ’Bows struggled with their aim early. They were 2-for-12 on 3s in the first half.

“I’m glad our guys kept shooting,” head coach Eran Ganot said. “We’re a good shooting team. I believe in our guys. We’re going to be in trouble if we pass up open shots just because we missed a couple.”

While Munoz and Cotton provided deep threats during the second-half spike, according to Ganot, a turning point was when 7-foot-1 Seck re-entered after center Bernardo da Silva was assessed his fourth foul with 6:33 to play. The ’Bows led 58-55 at the time.

‘At that time. we were not physical,” Ganot said. “We were not tough enough. We were not fighting around the rim. We were not finishing around the rim. We were not strong with the ball. And we were not protecting the rim. (Seck) did all that. He allowed us to separate.”

In a two-part sequence, Seck, off a spin move, made an emphatic dunk. He then raced down the court to block Jayden Jordan.

The ’Bows scored 12 of the final 18 points to seal their third victory in a row to open the season. The Lumberjacks fell to 2-4.

JoVon McClanahan led the ’Bows with 13 points and five assists. Justin McKoy contributed 11 points.

The ’Bows depart the UH campus this morning ahead of Friday’s opening round of the Acrisure Invitational at Palm Springs, Calif.

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