Lewis: Painful loss to Long Beach State cuts deep for Hawaii basketball team

  • Hawaii forward Jack Purchase reacts to the team's loss to Long Beach State during an NCAA college basketball game last year at the Big West men's tournament in Anaheim, Calif., Thursday, March 14, 2019. Long Beach won 68-66. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Some losses make you wince or grimace — and we’ve seen some of both recently — but this wasn’t one of those.

This was a whole lot worse.

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What the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team experienced in Wednesday night’s 50-49 defeat by Long Beach State was searing pain.

This was the suffering that comes when you lose to the last place team in the conference on your home floor and, in the process, see first place in the Big West Conference drift further away.

The stage had been set for a Saturday night showdown at the Stan Sheriff Center with defending champion UC Irvine on national television.

The network TV cameras will still be there but a lot of the luster on UH’s first conference home game on ESPN2 in its nine-year Big West membership has been stripped away.

For while the Anteaters (16-10, 8-2 in conference) took care of their end of the deal rallying to beat UC Riverside Wednesday night, 63-59, in Riverside, Calif., UH was unable to hold up its part with a third consecutive loss and was dropped to 14-9 (5-4 in conference).

Had UH managed to knock off cellar-dwelling LBSU, the ‘Bows would have been 1 1/2 games behind entering Saturday night.

Instead, UH now trails the Anteaters by 21/2 games and, with four of the seven remaining games to be played on the road where they have struggled, Saturday has pretty much become win or bust for the ‘Bows just to get back into the semblance of a race.

Now, losing to UC Santa Barbara on the road last Thursday was one thing. But the overtime setback at rebuilding 7-16 Cal Poly on Saturday was quite another.

And, then, came Wednesday night’s head shaking loss to the Beach, a 12-point underdog that came in at 7-17 (2-6 in conference).

As the disappointed UH fans in a gathering of 3,112 made their way into the night after the Rainbow Warriors’ lowest scoring game since a December 2016 game against Illinois State, the celebrating was being done by a small but joyous handful of Beach faithful.

The home court had been UH’s bedrock, a place where the ‘Bows had gone 13-3 and, even in rare defeats, held their own against ranked teams.

But whatever bedeviled the ‘Bows on last week’s road trip came home with them and then some. UH shot just 33% for the game, including a mere 24% from 3-point range. Even the return of Bernardo de Silva after missing five games with a foot injury couldn’t alter their fate.

In one telltale stretch late in the first half that was to see the Rainbow Warriors surrender a seven-point (20-13) lead they would have trouble belatedly recapturing, UH went 6 minutes, 58 seconds without a point and was outscored 11-2. It was a demise built on six turnovers and 1-for-8 field-goal shooting.

Turnovers and missed front ends of two 1-and-1 free throw opportunities made the task harder, but UH eventually tied it at 47-all and even led 49-47 with 1 minute, 5 seconds remaining on Justin Webster’s free throws.

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But the Beach tied it at 49-all on Michael Carter III’s floater and UH unraveled in a most uncharacteristic manner. Guard Drew Buggs, the ‘Bows’ 40-minute-a-game pillar, threw a pass away with 33.6 seconds for his fifth turnover on a night when he didn’t score and managed two assists and then fouled Carter with 3 seconds remaining.

Carter made the first of two free throws and, suddenly, a conference regular season of so much promise has become a desperate reclamation effiort.

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