Hawaii acting head coach Benjy Taylor was given the unenviable task of leading a program dealing with off-court issues last month, with an NCAA investigation leading to the coaching change and the loss of the team’s best player in All-Big West forward Isaac Fotu. However through two games Taylor’s Rainbow Warriors made do with the remaining pieces, picking up wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Bakersfield ahead of their Tip-Off Marathon matchup with High Point.
After building a nine-point second half lead with an aggressive offensive attack, things fell apart for the home team down the stretch. The energy that was a positive for most of the game gave way to a frenetic display in which Hawaii lacked the poise needed to put together the quality possessions needed to close out the game, and High Point took advantage.
Scott Cherry’s Panthers closed the game on a 20-3 run, winning by the final score of 62-54, and their 3-0 start is the program’s first as a Division I member.
John Brown, one of the Big South’s best players, led the way with 19 points and Tarique Thompson added 13 for High Point. The Panthers had their issues offensively, shooting 37.5% from the field, but they did manage to make 47.5% of their two-point attempts. By comparison Hawaii shot 13-for-34 from two, which works out to 38.2%, and that combined with the untimely miscues led to their first defeat of the season.
Hawaii committed just 12 turnovers on the morning, but six of those came in the final 6:23. Take better care of the ball, and the Rainbow Warriors likely would have won the game despite shooting 31.4% from the field. Mike Thomas led the way for Hawaii with a career-high 14 points, scoring all of those points in the first half.
Ultimately Hawaii’s remaining pieces were put together with the idea that Fotu would be their focal point offensively. Now that he’s no longer with the program, Taylor and his staff are going to have to figure out a system that works best moving forward. Being aggressive on both ends of the floor is great, but there’s no substitute for depth or sound execution. Those areas ultimately cost Hawaii Tuesday morning.