Vulcans open tourney today

With a long, exhausting road trip behind his team, University of Hawaii at Hilo coach Jeff Law looks forward to a busy week.

The Vulcans (1-1) will host the four-team Naniloa Volcanoes Resort’s Thanksgiving Basketball Tournament today through Wednesday at the UH-Hilo gym. The Vulcans are joined in the NCAA Division II field by Western New Mexico University, Montana State-Billings and Maryville University (Mo.).

“I think the competition level will be good all three nights,” Law said. “With all four teams, it’s pretty close all the way around. For us, it’ll give our fans a look at this year’s team, and we’ll see how much we’ve learned from our first four games — the two exhibitions against the Division I teams in Pittsburgh and the two D-II games in Oregon.

“Our guys are chomping at the bit to show the fans that they’re a much better team than last year. They’re excited to play, but we just need to play hard and play smart, and take it one game at a time.”

The Vulcans opened their season with a long trip to Pittsburgh and falling to Division I University of Pittsburgh 77-45 and Duquesne 92-46 before flying to Oregon to play in the PacWest/GNAC Challenge Series. UH-Hilo beat Western Oregon 89-80 in the opening round and lost 76-67 to St. Martin’s in the final round.

“We want to use this week’s tournament as an opportunity to take a step forward,” Law said. “Our guys learned some valuable lessons on the mainland trip, and this tournament and the competitive field should be good for us.”

In the win over Western Oregon, the Vulcans had five players in double figures — CJ Brown with a career-high 24 points, Michael Melonas added 18, Paul Batausa scored 15, Derek Owens had 12 and Lucas Swanson tallied 11. A key in the victory was free-throw shooting as the Vulcans drained 39 of 52 charity shots, including a sizzling 24 of 27 in the final half.

In the loss to St. Martin’s, senior Mychael Hearn scored a career-high 25 points, and Brandon Thomas added 11. But the other UH-Hilo scorers shot poorly, and the Saints put five players in double figures to pull out the win.

“For us to be successful this year, we’re going to have to play good defense, rebound well as a team and get quality shots,” Law said. “Our free-throw shooting has been good so far, and that’s something we need to continue doing well. We’re also going to be a team that needs six or seven guys to contribute every night in different ways.”