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