Crunching Numbers: Battle of “island” teams

Brocke Stepteau drove into the lane for two points in a closely contested Diamond Head Classic game with Rhode Island. / Photo by Dennis Oda, Star-Advertiser

Ever see a basketball game where the teams had the same number of assists, turnovers and rebounds?

If you watched Hawaii’s 68-60 win against Rhode Island on Christmas in the final day of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic you have.

Assists: 10 for both. Turnovers: 11 for both. Rebounds: 35 for both. Even the offensive-defensive split for the caroms was identical at 11-24.

I had to look at the stat sheet a couple of times to make sure it wasn’t some kind of mistake.

And field-goal shooting was very close, as the Rams made 24 of 60 and the Rainbow Warriors hit 25 of 58. Even that slight difference was mitigated by Rhode Island making one more 3-pointer than UH (six to five).

That leaves foul shooting, and you get an A for your math if you figured out the winning team made seven more charity tosses than the losing squad (13 to six).

So, it’s easy to assume this game was won at the line — and since Hawaii attempted 18 freebies to 12 for Rhode Island (called for 18 fouls compared to 13 for UH), you might even be tempted to say the refs played Santa Claus to the guys playing in their home arena.

But that’s a very bad assumption, especially if you consider when some of those fouls and free throws occurred.

With 3:36 left and Hawaii leading 59-56, Rhode Island had committed 15 fouls when guard Drew Buggs was whistled for Hawaii’s 13th and final infraction. Not a huge difference in the team totals, right?

Rhode Island’s Jeff Dowtin went to the line and missed the front-end of a 1-and-1. That made it 12 free throw attempts for Rhode Island to 14 for Hawaii. It would’ve been 13-14 if Dowton made that first shot. URI actually missed three straight front ends of 1-and-1s in the second half, between the 8:09 and 3:36 markers; Dowton was the last of the three.

Rhode Island’s only chance in the final minute was to foul, and it did — twice. Eddie Stansberry made two free throws with UH ahead 62-58 with 26 seconds left, and two more with the score 66-60 and 11 seconds left.

That means you can attribute some of the difference in the teams’ fouls to Rhode Island playing from behind, and some to Hawaii playing strong and smart defense down the stretch as it protected the lead.

Rhode Island did miss some open looks as it shot 34 percent from the field in the second half, but the Rainbows’ defense had something to do with it, too.

“Defense was nails,” said forward Zigmars Raimo. “We were helping each other. That’s why we won the game.”

Other things also not reflected in the box score were factors, too. A total of 10 assists doesn’t seem overly magnanimous, but the Rainbows kept working for good shots and rarely wandered off script from their offense.

And even though primary deep-ball threats Stansberry and Jack Purchase combined to go 3-for-15 on 3s, both made key second-half contributions.

UH’s 9-for-11 free throw shooting in the final 8:23 after taking the final lead indicates excellent 82 percent accuracy, and that the Rainbows were wisely looking to get to the line rather than jacking up 3-pointers (they tried just three of their 23 for the game in that span).

Leland Green, a former starting guard, played just seven minutes and missed two of his three shots. But his power drive layup gave Hawaii a lead in a tight game, and his hustle to save an errant pass kept a late-game possession alive.

“Some of the biggest plays of the game,” UH coach Eran Ganot said.