MANOA — Kameron Ng scored a game-high 16 points to push top-seeded Saint Francis to a 52-46 win over third-seeded Kalani in the title game of the Snapple/HHSAA Division II Boys Basketball State Championships at the Stan Sheriff Center Friday night.
The Saints (13-0) finished their season undefeated, winning just their second state crown and first since 2013.
Center Boris Vukovic came up big for the Saints, pouring in 13 points to go along with a game-high 11 rebounds.
"It means a lot. That's the ultimate goal," said Vukovic. "We work hard for that, for the post-season. We fell short last year but we came back hard, we played hard and it paid off."
Saint Francis was without starting point guard, Manoa Kualii-Moe, who broke his elbow on Thursday, and it showed in the first quarter. The Saints' offense looked stagnant, producing one point in the first eight minutes of play.
"That was the worst first quarter we've ever had," Saint Francis coach Ron Durant said. "I wasn't worried, honestly, because our kids are competitors. They've battled back and I knew it was just a matter of time to find our rhythm and get things going."
Despite the Saints' offensive struggles, the combination of a strong defensive effort and Kalani's slow-paced offense kept the score close at 8-1 after the opening quarter.
The Saints quickly forgot about their first-quarter struggles and dominated both sides of the court in the second.
An emphatic block from Micah Kalei sparked an offensive surge from his teammates. Ng began the run with a free throw. On the next possession, Vukovic made Saint Francis' first field goal on a layup.
"He was special," Durant said of Vukovic. "Leading up to these playoffs, I was reminding him ‘that this is your time, you've worked hard and you're going to get opportunities to play.' Tonight he made a big difference. I'm so happy for him because he had a tough year."
From there Ng hit on a circus shot after drawing a foul and made the free throw, before getting the ball back and sinking a baseline jumper to give his team a 9-8 lead with 4:45 remaining in the first half.
"It started on the defensive end, we got a stop and a transition and-1 and then that just blew our scoring open, and we didn't look back from there," Ng said.
Saint Francis capped a 17-0 run with a Justus Paaluhi-Caulk layup and went into halftime leading 18-10.
The Saints continued their strong play in the second half, outscoring Kalani 18-10 and finishing the third quarter on an 11-1 run. They held their largest lead of the night at 36-20 going into the final stanza, but saw that lead reduced to single digits with a minute remaining in the fourth.
Three Micah Kawano free throws brought the score to 46-36. Kalani's full court pressure created a loose ball on the Saint Francis inbounds, leading to a technical foul on Kordel Ng, who dove for the ball and inadvertently crashed into the legs of Toby Mitchell.
The Falcons made two out of the four free throws they were awarded and maintained possession. Kawano received the ball on the inbounds pass and sank a 3-pointer, bringing the score to 46-41 with 42 seconds remaining.
Bryce Nishida sank two free throws for the Saints before Kawano ran the ball down court and drilled another 3-pointer to make the score 48-44 with 30 seconds to play.
The teams exchanged free throws and after two makes by Kapaa Nishimura it was a one-possession game at 49-46 with 16 seconds left. Vukovic, who was 1-for-4 on the night, made both of his free throws to make the score 52-46 before Kalani turned the ball over twice on inbounds passes to seal the game.
"Again, defense, we know we can score no matter what. We just had to get stops so we could have the ball," Ng said. "I think we did a pretty good job of stopping their offense and finishing and knocking down clutch free throws."
Saint Francis maintained its defensive mindset throughout the contest, limiting Kalani to 28-percent shooting from the field while shooting 40 percent itself.
"We preach defense and everybody says defense wins championships and we showed that in the second quarter," Durant said. "We probably played the best defensive quarter in the second quarter when we needed it."
With Kualii-Moe out, Ng stepped up as the team's primary ball handler in his 32 minutes on the court. He finished with three rebounds, two assists and four steals.
"It feels great. Last year we lost in a heartbreaker and that's been on my mind a lot and I didn't want that to happen again," Ng said. "So I did whatever I could to win us a championship this year."
Durant shared his praise for Ng after the game.
"He's a complete point guard," Durant said about Ng. "He's got all of the tools, he can do what he wants and he tries to get people involved. But there comes a point where he just says, ‘I need to do something,' and he's got the skillset to do that."
Kawano led Kalani with 15 points and Jaemi Harris added 13.
2017 Snapple Boys Basketball State Championships
All-Tournament Team (as selected by the media and HHSAA)
Boris Vukovic, Saint Francis
Jaemi Harris, Kalani
Micah Kawano, Kalani
Peter Konohia, Seabury Hall
Jerry Lawson, Le Jardin
Most Outstanding Player: Kameron Ng, Saint Francis
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