Kahuku returns to defend state title

Kahuku's Tolu Smith swats a shot attempt by Maryknoll's Niko Robben in the Division I semifinals. John Lujan | SL

MANOA — Tolu Smith and Ruanui Winitana lifted defending state champion Kahuku past top-seeded and No. 1 Maryknoll, 49-43, in the Snapple/HHSAA Division I Boys Basketball Championships semifinals at the Stan Sheriff Center on Thursday.

The sixth-ranked Red Raiders look to defend their championship on Friday against No. 2 Punahou for the second year in a row.

"Feels great, not too many people felt we were going to be here. We noticed our strengths and kept going to and fortunately the ball bounced

our way and we're heading back," said Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana.

"They came ready to play," said Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant.

Smith scored 17 points, hauled seven rebounds, and had three blocks. His length altered several Maryknoll interior shots and made shooters think twice.

"He was huge," said Grant, on Smith. "You can see why he's a Division I player. He was defending the rim on every single shot to the basket. Marcus (Tobin) and Jordyn (Perez) attacking the basket where he's able to finish, was having difficulties."

Winitana also drained four clutch free throws in a tight fourth quarter stretch to help the Red Raiders pull away.

"That's been one of our weaknesses throughout the year," said Akana. "Rua was clutch, he's our point guard, so we want the ball in his hands and he's our best free throw shooter."

"We work too hard on free throws," said Winitana.

Knowing how crucial they were to Kahuku's success, both players played all 32 minutes.

"This right here was a clutch game for us," added Smith.

Lokana Enos, who added eight off the bench, drained a 3-pointer to make it, 37-35. The Spartans answered with back-to-back 3's from Isiah Gelacio and Makoto Kamata with 3:51 remaining. The Spartans also shot 5 of 22 from the perimeter and shot 18 of 55 overall from the field.

"We should've played a little bit more patient and not have to force shots," said Grant, with the Spartans clinging to a four-point lead.

Smith converted a 3-point play and another drive rallied the Red Raiders and Winitana padded the lead with a layup. Kahuku shot 5 of 6 from the free throw line in the last 43 seconds to seal the game. Maryknoll scored on Perez's basket at 17.1 seconds to make it, 47-43, but Winitana made two free throws to make it a six point game. The Spartans' 3-point attempts glanced off the rim as the Red Raiders held on.

"We preach to get stops. With no penetration and we got rebounds, our guys got stops at the end of the game," said Akana.

Payton Grant, Kelly's son, was inserted into the starting lineup and led the Spartans with seven points in the first quarter and finished with a team-high 10 points. Smith's 3-point play tied the game at 9 and the Red Raiders led, 14-13 after the first quarter.

Kahuku extended their lead to five, 21-16 after Ruanui Winitana's 3-pointer, but Maryknoll went on a 6-0 run, capped by Jordyn Perez's putback off of Payton Grant's missed transition layup to force the Red Raiders to call timeout. The Red Raiders pushed the game back up to five after Winitana's acrobatic layup, but Riden Leong followed his own miss as the Spartans trailed, 27-24 at halftime.

Kamata tied the game at 27 and led on Perez's dribble-drive. Kahuku led, 32-29 off of Enos' putback, but Leong got the layup plus the foul and Cody Weaver's transition layup beat the buzzer as Maryknoll led, 33-32 heading into the fourth.

Maryknoll had 17 offensive rebounds to Kahuku's five and outrebounded the Red Raiders, 28-25 overall.

"It was all the boards, that's one of our keys is to control the boards, those guys are relentless and that's why they're the number one in the state. Toward the end of the game we were able to get those rebounds which was important to us," said Akana.

Maryknoll, who was seeking their first title game appearance since 2013, drop to the third place game to face Moanalua at 1 p.m.

Kahuku returns to defend state title

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