BIIF boys basketball: Steady handed HPA denies Honokaa repeat bid in D-II championship game

  • TIM WRIGHT photos/Tribune-Herald
    Hawaii Prep celebrates its first BIIF Division II boys basketball title since 2013 on Thursday night at Hilo Civic.
  • HPA’s Javan Perez soars in for a basket against Honokaa.

HILO – Hawaii Prep follows the lead of Jonah Hurney on the basketball court, where his composure carries over from the pitching mound.

It’s a baseball rule and time-honored tradition that pitchers are emotionally steady, never too high or too low. Hurney was built that way, and his Ka Makani teammates can always depend on their senior point guard as a steady hand.

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HPA rallied from a nine-point, fourth-quarter deficit to prevail over Honokaa 38-37 in the BIIF Division II championship on Thursday night at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, where the game went down to the wire.

HPA (12-3) and Honokaa (10-5) play in the HHSAA quarterfinals on Wednesday on Oahu.

In Division I, Konawaena (10–5) hosts Moanalua in the first round at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Ellison Onizuka Gym. No. 4 seed Kamehameha (15-0) plays the Kahuku-Kailua winner in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Moanalua High’s Gym.

HPA captured its first title since 2013 and avenged last season’s championship loss to the Dragons, who won 51-50 on a free throw with no time on the clock.

With under a minute remaining, Ka Makani freshman KJ Walker drove to the hoop, and his shot was blocked by Kamuela Spencer Herring. Javan Perez, who’s right-handed, raced for the rebound, and in a display of fundamentally sound play, banked in a layup with his left hand.

That gave HPA a 38-37 lead with 40 seconds left, too much time on the clock and the tension increased when Michael Hanano missed a pair of free throws that could have provided breathing room.

Not everyone in the league can use their opposite hand to bank in a layup, but it’s a skill Perez learned early. And it was critical as well as HPA’s team chemistry

“I started working on my left hand in the fourth grade,” Perez said. “I’m from Kohala, and the coaches there taught me my fundamentals. We always practice with our left hand at practice.

“The team hangs together outside of practice. We’ve got a bond, and this team is my family.”

With 4.6 seconds to play, the Dragons inbounded the ball from half court, drove to the rim and found a forest of hands waiting to apply ball pressure. A turnover was produced, and time expired on Honokaa, which finished with 25 giveaways, including seven in the fourth quarter.

It was fitting that HPA had balanced scoring. Walker led the charge with nine points while Hurney, Perez, Hanano, and Matija Vitorovic added six points each.

Through three quarters, Ka Makani shot 16 percent (5 of 31). In the fourth period, they made 7 of 11 field goals as part of a 13-0 run to take a 31-29 lead with under four minutes left, their first advantage since early in the second quarter.

Walker and Perez, a sophomore, combined for seven points during that scoring spurt for the slim lead, which evaporated when Gene Ansagay went 4 of 4 on free throws to tie the game twice, the last time at 33-33 with 2:52 left.

Spencer Herring scored 16 points on 7 of 15 shooting, Ansagay added eight points, and Shelton Carvalho cleaned the glass with 18 rebounds for the Dragons, who shot 33 percent (15 of 45) from the floor.

Ka Makani converted 29 percent (12 of 42) from the field but saved their shots when they needed it most. They finished with 21 turnovers but only three in the final eight minutes.

“Honokaa was the aggressor all night long,” HPA coach Fred Wawner said. “But we hung around. The league has been so tough. Both teams were prepared for this type of tourney. But we stuck together and had good leadership.

“If Jonah makes a mistake, he’ll hustle back on defense. That’s a good thing to see for all the young kids.”

In the fourth quarter, HPA ran a spread offense to stretch out Honokaa’s man defense and attacked the rim. Walker had a layup, and Perez had two, the last beauty of a shot. Ka Makani also went 6 of 11 from the free throw line.

Honokaa led 16-14 at halftime, and after the break Ka Makani’s shooters came out ice cold and went 1 for 11 from the field, the only field goal was Vitorovic’s 3-pointer in the third period.

Then Honokaa jumped on an 8-0 run, highlighted by another Spencer Herring bumper-car moment. He politely ushered a defender out of the way to create space and dropped in another layup for a 23-17 lead.

Kieran Lo followed with a transition layup right before the buzzer, and the Dragons held a precious eight-point lead heading into the final eight minutes.

Five years ago, Jayme Carvalho took over at his alma mater and brought back an old-fashioned philosophy made famous by the Showtime Lakers: score easy points on layups, putbacks, and free throws. (Honokaa went 6 of 8 from the line; HPA was 12 of 23.)

Few teams operated that blueprint better in the BIIF the Dragons of 2001, who placed third at states.

The current Honokaa edition has some of the same type of personnel. Spencer-Herring is a tough inside force, and Ansagay is a floor-burning slasher, and they’re the leaders of Honokaa’s catchy motto: GID (Get It Done).

HPA is a much different version of itself. Basketball is no longer a training offseason sport for football. Under Wawner and assistant Dave Huntington, the program has developed into a rising power. The roster is filled with athletic hoopsters well-stocked with length and basketball IQ.

That court savvy is most seen with Hurney, the floor general who controls the tempo with a steady hand. He was on the Nobu Yamauchi RBI Senior baseball team that won the World Series title, and his composure never changes from sport to sport.

Hurney had up-and-down stats: 1 of 5 shooting and seven turnovers but 4 of 6 free throws, five assists, four steals, and all 32 minutes played. And he had the maximum amount of composure, determination and hustle that can’t be measured.

“We just stuck together. We had a lot of tough games this season, and that helped us,” he said. “We know the good feeling and bad feeling (in the BIIF championship).”

He was his team’s Mr. Steady. In the final eight minutes, the ball was always in his hands, and Hurney had zero turnovers.

“We live and die with Jonah,” Wawner said. “It was perseverance for us.”

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Honokaa 7 9 9 12 — 37

Hawaii Prep 7 7 3 21 — 38