Playing in front of your home crowd in any instance gives a team an initial advantage. When you play in front of your home crowd in a three-game tournament, the odds are on your side to make a statement. On Friday evening, the Hawaii Warriors had that opportunity, as they took on the Auburn Tigers in the third-place game of the 2015 Diamond Head Classic.
The Warriors knocked off the Northern Iowa Panthers in their tournament opener, and gave the Oklahoma Sooners a serious run for their money in their semi-finals loss. They were looking to send their fans home with an extra Christmas present, in the form of a win over a power conference opponent.
While the final score was a double-digit margin of victory, the contest was the true definition of back-and-forth. The teams swapped big leads in the second half, and the final outcome was decided in the final 3 minutes of the game.
In the end, the Hawaii Warriors used timely free throw shooting down the stretch to take down the Auburn Tigers, 79-67.
In front of a rowdy home crowd, Hawaii wasted little time getting things rolling on the offensive end. Aaron Valdes and Stefan Jankovic each recorded a basket on the Warriors’ first two possessions, prompting Auburn to take a timeout just 1:08 into the game.
The timeout worked, as Bryce Brown responded with a three for the Tigers out of the break. From there, the back-and-forth action would start, and would be a common theme over the course of the game.
Roderick Bobbitt connected on a three-pointer out of the under-12 media timeout to stake Hawaii to a 16-8 lead, but Auburn was still hanging around.
A 10-0 run from the Tigers, spearheaded by Tyler Harris who recorded 5 of the 10 points, pushed them back into the lead, this time prompting a timeout from the Warriors. Bobbitt would respond with a three-pointer out of the break, and the see-saw action would continue.
Auburn would stretch their lead to as many as 5 points as the opening half wore on, but were unable to put some serious separation between themselves and the Warriors. Stefan Jovanovic would connect on a layup with 1:06 remaining in the half, and Hawaii trailed 30-29 at the break.
Kareem Canty opened the second half scoring for the Tigers, pushing their lead to 3, but then Hawaii took over for the next three-plus minutes. A dunk from Michael Thomas kicked off an 11-0 run for the Warriors, led by Bobbitt who recorded 8 of the 11 points, all in succession.
Not to be outdone, Auburn would respond with a 14-3 run of their own to put themselves back in front, at 46-43. Five different players scored in the run for the Tigers, including Canty and Cinmeon Bowers.
The teams would trade baskets before the under-12 media break. Out of the break, and with the score all tied up at 49-all, the Tigers would make yet another run to try and take control of the game. Harris and Canty would go on an 11-2 run of their own to give Auburn a 9-point lead with 9:29 to go.
It was looking more and more like Hawaii wouldn’t be denied on Christmas Day in front of their home crowd, as they fought back from the latest Tigers’ run to put themselves back in a position to come away victorious. Sai Tummala completed a rare four-point play to end Auburn’s run, and Hawaii was back in business.
Down the stretch, the Warriors did the bulk of their damage from the free throw line, and the points started to pile up as Auburn struggled on offense themselves. Missed opportunities from the Tigers, and timely free throw shooting from the likes of Jankovic and Bobbitt allowed Hawaii to take a lead at the 6:14 mark of the half, and never look back.
They built on the lead as the game wound down, and Auburn was never able to recover. The Hawaii Warriors sent their fans home happy with a 79-67 win over the Auburn Tigers in the 3rd-Place game of the Diamond Head Classic.
Auburn had several chances to pull away from the Warriors, but were unable to capitalize on the offensive end of the floor. Guard Kareem Canty scored a team-high 22 points to go along with 8 assists in the loss. Guard Bryce Brown added in 20 points, while Tyler Harris narrowly missed a double-double with 15 points and 9 rebounds.
As for the host Warriors, they got a big game from their stars. Guard Roderick Bobbitt played all 40 minutes of he game, recording a game-high 30 points on 8-of-13 shooting. He was also 6-of-7 from three-point range, and a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line.
Forward Stefan Jankovic added 21 points and 8 rebounds in the win.
The loss marked the third defeat in the last four games for the Auburn Tigers (6-5). Returning home to the mainland having lost two games the Tigers should have won won’t sit well with Coach Pearl. The road doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers, as they open SEC play on January 2nd against the Tennessee Volunteers.
On Monday, the Hawaii Warriors (9-2) entered our Mid-Major Power Rankings for a reason, and despite the 3-point loss to Oklahoma, should stay there next week as well. The win over Auburn was their fifth in six games, and the Warriors show no signs of slowing down. They will look to notch their 10th win of the season when they take on the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils on December 29th.