Long Beach State made its presence felt from the get-go on Thursday night. So did the officiating crew.
Yet it was Hawaii that prevailed in the Big West clash, 74-57, thanks to a relentless effort from its bench players.
The stat of the night: 35 bench points for the hosts, 10 for the visitors.
This was a night in which shooting came at a premium for both teams, UH shooting just north of 40 percent and LBSU just under it. Each team had more fouls than field goals.
But no matter which rotation ‘Bow was saddled with foul trouble, or what defensive scheme The Beach threw at the ‘Bows — there were several of those, too — lo and behold, there was a combination that UH coach Eran Ganot could go to for an effective counter.
— Spectrum Sports HI (@specsportshi) February 1, 2019
Brocke Stepteau set the tone in that regard, as he was quietly in command and control during his 26 minutes, scoring an efficient 16 points and dishing five assists and no turnovers. He had a knack for knowing when to swoop in for a scoop shot or when to kick it out. His steady play was huge, as regular starter Sheriff Drammeh, one of the heroes of Saturday’s win over UC Davis, struggled with both his shot (0-for-4) and fouls (four).
“You’ve heard us from Day 1 about the depth,” Ganot said. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming off who could start. Brocke, I mean, he’s a sixth starter, clearly, and he finishes a lot of games for us.”
Sophomore wing Samuta Avea (eight points, four rebounds) inherited an 11-2 deficit when he checked in. He promptly got UH off the deck, hitting back-to-back 3s from the left corner to key a 25-8 run.
Mate Colina (six points, four rebounds) missed a chippie late in the first half but redeemed himself with a flush in the waning seconds of the period — just before LBSU’s Breamon Richard stuck a banked halfcourt shot. The big Aussie’s opportunities had been limited of late, so that had to be encouraging for him.
Dawson Carper (four points, two boards) also had a dunk as part of his follow-up to his 13-point, five-rebound breakthrough against Davis.
“I thought those guys were both ready to go,” Ganot said of Carper and Colina. “That’s been kind of our motto: We gotta have the best bench in our league. … If anything, those guys have a lot of reps now. They’re good to, they support each other and it’s fun to watch. We gotta keep going.”
And then a few of the regulars, Drew Buggs, Eddie Stansberry and Zigmars Raimo, helped turn it into a blowout and garbage time for the rest of the bench mob — a group that included Leland Green, who is just a couple games removed from his season-best performance against UC Irvine.
UC Santa Barbara is up next on Saturday in a potentially huge clash.
It’s been a frustrating couple of weeks for LBSU and coach Dan Monson, who started league play 2-0 (including the only loss dealt to Irvine so far), but have now dropped their last four. Burly forward Temidayo Yussuf had missed the last five games with a leg injury but returned in a limited role Thursday. You’d figure he’ll be back closer to his normal self in the teams’ meeting two games from now, at The Pyramid in a week.
“I told them, we just gotta get better,” Monson said. “These teams are playing better than us right now, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be a month from now. And that’s what we gotta concentrate on.”
Hawaii, meanwhile, planted the seeds of a capable rotation a couple months ago, cultivated them during the Diamond Head Classic, and and is seeing them bear fruit. Harvesting time isn’t far off.