Nothing came easy for Buffanblu
They were young, athletic and needed a bit of taming.
The Punahou Buffanblu didn't just get better this season. They captured their first state crown since 1999 with a narrow 41-38 win over Kamehameha-Hawaii.
Punahou's uphill ride to the state title began with a 65-32 opening-round win over Lahainaluna and a 56-31 victory over OIA champion Mililani. Then came a surprisingly lopsided 61-35 win over Big Island champ Konawaena.
In the finale against Kamehameha-Hawaii, it was the Warriors who had the edge in senior experience. The game brought together Punahou coach Dan Hale and KS-Hawaii coach Nelson Wong, one-time teacher and pupil. Hale was an assistant track coach at Kamehameha when Wong was a standout athlete there in the 1980s.
KS-Hawaii, with Wong's old-school ILH-style halfcourt tempo, had a nine-point lead in the early going. Punahou used its height advantage on the low post and kept attacking the Warriors despite missing. Eventually, it was Henry Cassiday who got the tip-in for a 39-38 lead with 45 seconds left.
Punahou's energy level and commitment to crash the boards was phenomenal. It appeared that Manti Te'o had the follow shot at first, but a closer look via video later revealed that although Te'o got his fingerprints on the ball, Cassiday was directly on the offensive rebound and tip. Either way, Punahou needed all the extra effort it could get against a KS-Hawaii team that almost seemed destined to win a first boys hoops title for the young campus.
Punahou's 41-38 win capped a season of ups and downs.
"We couldn't have played in a game like this earlier in the season," Hale said. "We weren't disciplined enough."
The title victory was almost surreal, given the mighty battles with arch rival Iolani. The two schools split their four games this season and entered the postseason ranked as the top two teams in the state.
Punahou won the Jim Alegre Invitational final over Iolani 53-52 on a last-second layup by Dalton Hilliard. Four weeks later, Iolani won the first ILH showdown 43-41 on a buzzer-beating layup by Taylor Mounts. Less than three weeks later, Punahou routed the Raiders 70-41, but Iolani gained momentum by winning the league championship in a 54-51 win over the Buffanblu on Feb. 8.
That momentum ended, however, when Iolani lost to Moanalua in the state quarterfinals. Punahou (24-4) was fated to face KS-Hawaii (24-6), while Iolani was left to ponder what could have been, especially against a team (Moanalua) that later forfeited its tournament games due to an ineligible player.
Complications were outside of Punahou's realm, and the Buffanblu, behind the tournament's most outstanding player (Kameron Steinhoff) had its ninth state title in boys basketball.
For Wong, it was a heart-wrenching end to a superb season. Several of the Warriors have played in his system since they were seventh graders -- when the Keaau campus opened.
The core of senior starters -- Colton Collins, Isaiah Kekaualua, Kealoha Kramer and Hogan Rosehill -- have been with Wong through ups and downs. With all their success -- regular trips to the state tourney -- the young players saw their coach endure the death of his father early last season. Wong's leadership through that difficult time wasn't lost on his players, who rewarded him with exemplary effort.
"I already started to miss 'em halfway through the season," Wong said. "I don't know if we could've played any better."
Rosehill, in particular, led the charge in the paint against the taller Buffanblu. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds, but even his miscue late in the game -- an errant pass that sailed out of bounds with KS-Hawaii down 39-38 -- couldn't get him down.
"Our confidence was super high. Punahou played awesome defense. I made a turnover, but things like that happen," he said.
Star-Bulletin Top 10 Poll
The season's final Top 10 high school boys basketball teams as voted on by coaches and media from around the state. First-place votes in parentheses. Ten points for first-place votes, nine for second, eight for third, etc.
| 1. Punahou (28), 24-4
| 2. KS-Hawaii, 24-6
||lost to Punahou
| 3. Konawaena, 27-7
||beat Moanalua (forfeit)
| 4. Iolani, 18-9
||lost to Kamehameha
| 5. Kamehameha, 25-7
| 6. Mililani, 20-11
||lost to Kamehameha
| 7. Kalaheo, 23-8
||lost to Campbell
| 8. Moanalua, 23-16
||lost to Konawaena (forfeit)
| 9. Campbell, 23-11
||lost to Kahuku
|10. Kahuku, 18-7
» Also receiving votes:
Farrington 25, Saint Louis 24, Aiea 12, Kamehameha-Maui 1, Lahainaluna 1, Mid-Pacific 1
» No longer in top 10 (previous rank): Saint Louis (No. 10)