UH JUST FINE ON THE LINE

The Rain­bows hit 31 of 38 free throws to make up for their ex­tended shooting droughts to de­feat Prairie View A&M

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS - By Brian McIn­nis bm­cin­nis@starad­ver­tiser.com

Some­times it re­ally is as sim­ple as mak­ing your free throws.

In a game Hawaii strug­gled to con­trol the ball and make shots from the field, its point-at-a-time ef­fort from 15 feet was enough to skirt past Prairie View A&M 72-60 on Wed­nes­day night at the Stan Sher­iff Cen­ter.

UH (5-2) went a sea­son-best 31-for-38 (81.6 per­cent) at the foul line, the only thing it could count on con­sis­tently on a night it shot 38.6 per­cent from the field — in­clud­ing a sec­ond-half bucket drought of over 12 min­utes — as 2,715 fans looked on at the open­ing con­test of a seven-game De­cem­ber home­s­tand.

By con­trast, Prairie View of the SWAC shot 10-for-23 (43.5 per­cent) at the line, un­der­min­ing their 12 steals and 20 points off UH’s sea­son-high 19 turnovers.

Drew Buggs was the only Rain­bow War­rior to miss more than one foul shot, mak­ing six of eight.

“The free throws, hope­fully we can build off that,” UH coach Eran Ganot said. “The 3-point shot is some­thing we’ll have to have a break­through game with.”

UH ac­tu­ally tied its sea­son high for 3s with seven (in 24 at­tempts). Brocke Stepteau’s rain­bow shot from long dis­tance with three min­utes left — and the lead trimmed to four — was the big­gest, end­ing the epic field-goal drought of 12:11.

“If we’re get­ting wins turn­ing the ball over 19 times and not hit­ting 3s, there’s a lot of up­side,” se­nior cap­tain Mike Thomas said. “We just gotta pro­duce now.”

Point guards Stepteau (16 points off the bench) and Buggs (17 points) set their

sea­son scor­ing highs in play­ing to­gether most of the game against the Panthers’ full-court ball pres­sure. Thomas added his sec­ond dou­ble-dou­ble of the sea­son, 14 points and 11 re­bounds.

There was also a six-minute-plus field-goal drought in the first half. UH still man­aged to lead by seven at in­ter­mis­sion.

“We could feel it as we were play­ing,” Stepteau said. “Ev­ery­one was hun­gry to get a bucket and it wasn’t go­ing our way. We were just shooting free throws and not get­ting any flow. A lot of times, peo­ple press to take away your flow. I think that got to us, we started turn­ing it over, and the only way we could score was at the freethrow line. We did a good job push­ing through that.”

Prairie View (2-6) drew to within four on a steal and free throw by Zachary Hamil­ton with 3:26 left.

Stepteau, who’s bailed his team out sev­eral times this sea­son late in the shot clock, did so again on the en­su­ing pos­ses­sion.

“I just knew there was three sec­onds left when I got the ball,” Stepteau said. “When I caught it, I knew I had to shoot it. I had to step into it with con­fi­dence. The dude closed out on me, so I shot it as high as I could, tried to get some arc on it. Soon as it left my hands, it felt good.”

Quipped Ganot: “I think that one’s still up there.”

Prairie View’s strug­gles at the line were as re­mark­able as UH’s from the field. The Panthers even had the front end of a 1-and-1 foul at­tempt nul­li­fied by a lane vi­o­la­tion, a costly mis­take when the Panthers trailed by nine.

“They made it so tough for us to score,” Prairie View coach By­ron Smith said. “Man, we just went through all of that to get a shot. You want to cap­i­tal­ize on it (at the line). We’ve been like a stock mar­ket with freethrow shooting. It’s been up and down.”

Guard Gary Black­ston led the Panthers with 27 points on 10-for-29 shooting.

Buggs re­turned to the start­ing lineup at point guard af­ter an ef­fec­tive out­ing in a loss at Utah over the week­end. He played 33 min­utes and Stepteau 29.

“You gotta have a com­bi­na­tion of the fa­cil­i­ta­tion from that po­si­tion, and run­ning the team,” Ganot said. “But you gotta have scor­ing from that po­si­tion too. They com­bined to do that tonight.”

UH led by as many as 15 in the first half but the Panthers ral­lied behind full­court ball pres­sure and some tough 3-point makes. They had a chance to trim it to three in the fi­nal sec­onds of the half, but Austin Starr fired a trey off the side of the back­board with five sec­onds left.

Buggs drib­bled the ball the length of the court, got fouled and made a free throw to ex­tend the lead to 36-29 at in­ter­mis­sion.

At half­time, UH hon­ored for­mer base­ball star Kolten Wong with a re­tired jersey pre­sen­ta­tion. The St. Louis Car­di­nals sec­ond base­man re­ceived a shirt bear­ing his No. 14.

CINDY ELLEN RUS­SELL / CRUSSELL@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

Hawaii guard Drew Buggs drove to the bas­ket be­tween Prairie View A&M Panthers for­ward Jor­dan Lump­kins, left, and for­ward Keion Alexan­der with a sec­ond left in the first half. He was fouled by Alexan­der and made the first free throw but missed the sec­ond, giv­ing UH a 36-29 half­time lead.

CINDY ELLEN RUS­SELL / CRUSSELL@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

Hawaii for­ward Michael Thomas bat­tled for a re­bound against Prairie View A&M. Thomas had 14 points and 11 re­bounds.

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