While three Hawaii rotation players were unable to play at the end of Saturday’s 81-61 win over Cal State Fullerton due to injuries, Garrett Nevels was out for another reason entirely.
The senior captain was ejected with a little over seven minutes left for receiving consecutive technical fouls arguing a no-call with officials — he was upset about the lack of a whistle while getting hacked going for a left-handed dunk just a few moments before.
“That’s never happened before. It’s unlike me,” Nevels said Monday. “I gotta control my emotions better.”
Said UH coach Benjy Taylor, who sat down with Nevels to talk about it in the game’s aftermath: “He feels really bad about it. I mean, Garrett’s our spokesperson. … He’s always really good with the refs. He’s always a peacemaker. It was a blip on the radar for him. Some of our other guys have issues with that, but Garrett doesn’t. I’ll deal with Garrett internally on that. But he felt bad about it.”
Some Rainbows have had their issues with Class A technicals this season — the standard type that doubles as a personal foul — with Isaac Fleming accruing five and Roderick Bobbitt three. Nevels had a tech against Marist in Florida back in November, but that was it. He’s normally a pretty cool customer.
Ejections are fairly uncommon in college hoops and aren’t kept in the records in the UH media guide, but I believe the last UH player to get ejected before Nevels was Jace Tavita against Chaminade on Molokai in December of 2012.
The UH crowd had been getting on the officials all Saturday night, so tensions could have been elevated among the three-member crew, which also worked Thursday’s game against UC Riverside (and gave techs to Fleming and Bobbitt in that one). There were some very curious calls and no-calls prior to Nevels’ ejection, contributing to a tense situation.
Nevels was not surprised when he picked up the first T. The second, though, came after he’d walked away from the official he’d first spoken to, and came when Nevels stopped next to Taylor to talk to the coach. Another official, however, was in range of that conversation.
“Yeah (the second one was surprising),” Nevels said. “I was asking for the first one, really. But the second one, I was just talking to Benjy. I wasn’t looking at the officials or anything. So, when he threw me out the game, I was surprised.”
Taylor said, “He was talking to me. I think that was attorney-client privilege. But I guess it isn’t.”
Nevels expressed some relief that his six suited-up-and-available teammates were able to finish off the win. Aaron Valdes was a pregame scratch with a sprained ankle, while Fleming and Mike Thomas injured ankles in the first half and came out on crutches after halftime. Center Stefan Jovanovic fouled out late, as well, leaving just Dyrbe Enos in uniform on the bench.
“People was dropping like flies,” Nevels said. “But you know, people on the bench came, played big for us. We were able to still win by 20. … All the coaches called me (after) to see how I was doing, check up on me. Make sure I was all right. We got the win, that’s what counts.”
After watching the film of the game, Taylor said, “I was even more impressed. We have our critics and we have our naysayers, but at the end of the day, it was a 20-point win in conference down to six players to finish it. It’s just a real tribute to where we’ve come as a program and how these guys will step up for one another and make sure we still get the ‘W’ we’re supposed to get. That’s our focus right now — winning every game we’re supposed to win. We’re just trying to grow and mature.”
Fifth-place UH (19-8, 6-5 Big West) departs Tuesday for games at second-place UC Irvine on Thursday and leader UC Davis on Saturday. It has the makings of a challenging week.
Valdes, Fleming and Thomas were still all out of commission during Monday’s team practice. Fleming and Thomas were still on crutches and had each had their injured foot in a boot. Thus, UH held a light, 5-on-0 practice.
Thomas landed on an ankle badly coming down from a block attempt late in the first half. Before that, Fleming collided awkwardly with Stefan Jankovic and hobbled off.
Taylor didn’t rule them out for Thursday’s game at UC Irvine.
“It depends how they respond to treatment. They’re tough kids, so I think they will respond,” Taylor said.
Valdes said if Saturday were the Big West tournament, he would have played. Taylor said the team elected to hold him out because the sprain would have hampered Valdes’ explosiveness and athleticism, some of his best assets on the court.
“If he can’t plant and jump and soar and use his speed and quickness, he’s really limited,” Taylor said. “We talked about it, I just want to make sure this group is healthy at the right time and finish strong.”
“When I watched it on film, both injuries (Isaac and Mike) really scared me when I watched it. We could have easily lost both of them for the year. But we’ve been living right, we’re all prayed up and I think they’ll be ready to go.”