Kalan Camero scored 18 points and David Ovbagbedia added nine more to help Hawaii Preparatory Academy (6-0) past Kealakehe (1-4) 57-40 at Castle Gymnasium on Tuesday.
Keanu Tilfas had 12 points and Malu Akiona added nine for the Waveriders in the loss.
“We are always excited to win,” said HPA co-head coach Fred Wawner. “We have had some great games with them in the past, so we were expecting a tough game coming in.”
Kealakehe had played much better than its record indicated entering the matchup. The Waveriders lost two games to Big Island Interscholastic Federation title contenders Waiakea and Konawaena by a combined seven points, and let a game on the road against Kamehameha get away 79-67.
“We have got a whole lot better since the preseason,” Kealakehe head coach Sam Kekuaokalani said. “This past weekend we did not have a good practice and had a bad game against Kamehameha. We missed I don’t know how many layups, probably five easy ones in the first half.”
HPA — the BIIF’s towering Division II powerhouse — was coming off a 70-38 blowout win over Ka‘u and had been playing just as well as its undefeated record indicated.
The undersized Waveriders came out content to play patient basketball and wait for their openings. With no shot clock to regulate, Kealakehe’s possessions often reached a minute or longer as they passed the ball around the perimeter, waiting for an open look or passing lane into the paint.
“For the most part, the boys were working hard and trying to find their niche within that pace,” Kekuaokalani said. “We wanted to keep the score below 40 points. For us, I’ve learned if we can keep it under 40 we have a good shot.”
Kealakehe’s strategy did not phase HPA’s disciplined defense, mostly because the team’s shooters never found their rhythm. Outside of a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Arthur Freddy, the Waveriders’ first-half points came exclusively from inside the paint.
HPA was led by the big men Evaldas Vegertas, Ovbagbedia and Nicholas Palleschi in the first half. The trio bullied their way down low, grabbing contested rebounds, blocking shots and putting away easy buckets in the paint over the Kealakehe defense.
Justin Gecas and Camero were the fastbreak weapons for Ka Makani. It often took only an outlet pass to either Gecas or Camero and then an easy finish at the rim for an uncontested layup.
“They did a great job controlling the tempo in that first half,” Wawner said. “I thought our kids were patient though. Offensively we got bogged down a little but we got out in transition and hit some threes to get a nice cushion.”
Facing a 33-16 deficit after the break, Kealakehe was forced to go with a new strategy. While it took the majority of the third quarter to find their shooting stroke, a string of HPA turnovers and back-to-back five-second violations helped the Waveriders cut the deficit to 12 — the closest the game had been since the first quarter.
Kealakehe’s offense continued to pick up the pace through the fourth, with Keanu Tilfas banging away down low. However, the ‘Riders never got within single-digits of Ka Makani.
“The only way to get back from a deficit like that is one possession at a time,” Kekuaokalani said. “We had to get a stop, execute on offense, but kept stalling from either a turnover or tough call from the refs. Keanu was trying to get down low, but they were really big in the paint.”
Camero played steadily throughout the game, not peaking in any particular quarter, and maintaining the pace HPA needed.
“I feel like Kalan bailed us out,” Wawner said. “I felt there were times in the second half that we checked out. Being a senior he put things into his own hands.”
After the tough loss, Kekuaokalani had nothing but praise for the tough HPA squad.
“They are one of the most well-rounded teams in the state. They can shoot, go inside and can really do anything they want. I’m confident to say they are probably among the top contenders— not just in the BIIF — but in the state.”
HPA continues its season and pursuit of perfection Friday with a visit to Honokaa.
“Its cliche, but we try to do this one game at a time,” Wawner said. “We have to go on the road to Honokaa and we have not had a lot of success there. Hopefully we can have a good few days of practice and the boys will be focused and ready to go.”
In JV action, HPA squeaked by 38-35, despite a late run by Kealakehe.
Konawaena 55, Honokaa 37
Jonah Bredeson led all scorers with 18 points in Kealakekua to power the Wildcats to a 6-0 start.
Brandon Awa added 11 points and Cameron Howes had eight for Konawaena, which is threatening to run away and hide in the Division I race.
For the Dragons (2-4), Cjay Carvalho finished with 12 points and Shyrome Batin posted 10.
Kohala 68, Ka‘u 56
Mikala Jordan’s 24 points paced the Cowboys’ methodical offensive effort in Kapaau.
Justin Agbayani and Kealan Figueroa added 13 points apiece for Kohala (5-1), which scored at least 15 points in each quarter.
The Trojans (0-6) were led by Larry-Dan Al-Navarro (20 points), while Brian Gascon contributed 13.
Ka‘u won the JV game 68-43.
Kamehameha 53, St. Joseph 34
Ina Teofilo scored 11 points and Micah Carter added nine as the Warriors eased to victory on their home floor to improve to 4-2.
Ben Uhlmann led the Cardinals (0-5) with 10 points.
Hilo 55, Pahoa 51
Jalen Carvalho and Austin Dante combined for 47 points for Hilo (3-3).
Carvalho scored 32 points on 10 of 17 shooting, and Dante added 15.
Tolby Saito scored 20 points, including nine in a frantic fourth quarter, to lead the Daggers (1-5), who trailed 27-21 at halftime.
Waiakea 49, Keaau 39
Lucas St. George scored 14 points and the Warriors (4-2) pulled away in the fourth quarter to win on the road.
The Cougars (3-3), who trailed 35-32 after three quarters, got balanced scoring from Edgar Ventura (15 points), Charlie Belmes (12) and Isiah Segobia (10).
In JV, Waiakea won 53-45.