HILO — Winning a championship is difficult, but repeating can be at times almost impossible.
Don’t tell that to the Hawaii Prep boys basketball team. On Saturday night, Ka Makani proved they can make the difficult look easy with an impressive 64-39 win over Pahoa in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II tournament championship game.
About 1,200 fans watched the final at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
With the win, Ka Makani (8-4) claimed their second straight BIIF Division II championship and earned the league’s top seed in the upcoming state Division II tournament. They will be joined in the eight-team event by the runner-up Daggers (8-6) at states, scheduled Feb. 21-23 in Honolulu.
Junior Buck Thomas scored 16 points, including four 3-pointers, junior Kalan Camero had 13, and senior added Jovan Crnic 11, all in the second half, to lead HPA past the Daggers.
But Pahoa, the East Division’s top seed and playing without all-star forward Nick Fisher, challenged Ka Makani in a physical first half. West Division top seed HPA led 15-13 at the end of the first period and 29-23 at halftime.
Not once did the Daggers back down in the opening half, and Ka Makani co-coaches Dave Huntington and Fred Wawner made some key adjustments at the intermission.
“Give Pahoa credit; they played really well,” Huntington said. “We felt like they were getting all the 50-50 balls, so we asked our guys to step up and rebound a whole lot better.
“We also asked them to be more patient on offense, and we got a lot more baskets inside.”
The 6-foot-4 Crnic, a multitalented point guard from Serbia, didn’t score in the first half. But he started getting to the rack in the third period, scoring nine of HPA’s 21 points. Ka Makani’s defense also stepped up and held the tiring Daggers to only seven points.
Ka Makani then carried a 50-30 advantage into the fourth quarter. And with the Daggers playing without the high-scoring Fisher, who was in the hospital recovering from severe dehydration from the previous night, the final eight minutes belonged to Ka Makani.
HPA outscored Pahoa 14-9 in the fourth period, but Huntington and Wawner emptied their bench midway through the quarter, and their starters watched as time ticked down on their second straight BIIF title.
“It feels great to repeat,” said Camero, the guard who teams with Crnic to give Ka Makani one of the best backcourt combinations in the state at the Division II level.
“The coaches prepared us well for tonight. Pahoa is a great team, and even without Fisher, they’re still very good.”
Camero finished a productive evening with his 13 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals.
“My job is to help bring the ball upcourt and get into the offense,” the soft-spoken Camero said. “I like to get my teammates the ball. Buck is a great shooter, and Jovan can knock it down. I only look for my shot if I’m open.
“I love my team and the way we play. It’s great to repeat, and last year we finished third in the state. This year, we want to win it all.”
Crnic also had nice numbers against Pahoa: 11 points, seven rebounds, two steals and four assists.
But like Huntington and Wawner preach, HPA is all about team basketball and every player filling his important roles.
HPA also got a defensive spark from junior Kellen Gillins, who matched up with Tolby Saito much of the game. Saito had a game-high 22 points, but he had to earn them with Ka Makani’s defense shadowing him on every Pahoa possession.
Napeahi finished with 10 points as the only other Dagger to reach double figures against the defensive-minded Ka Makani.
“It’s feels great to win back-to-back championships,” Huntington said. “Our kids have worked really hard all year, and it’s paying off. We’re happy to be moving on, but we want to credit Pahoa and Honokaa for challenging us to get better.
“Now, we want to go to states, play the best we can, and see what happens.”
Pahoa 13 10 7 9 — 39
HawaiiPrep 15 14 21 14 — 64