January 22, 2012 at 4:06 AM HST - Updated June 26 at 3:36 AM
HONOLULU – An inspired University of Hawai'i men's basketball team got back in winning form with a huge 91-87 victory over New Mexico State Saturday night at the Stan Sheriff Center. The Rainbow Warriors improved to 11-8 overall and 3-2 in the Western Athletic Conference while snapping a brief two-game slide.
UH built a sizeable second-half lead and withstood a furious Aggie rally in the closing minutes to pick up a statement win over the Aggies (14-6, 4-1 WAC), who entered the game undefeated in WAC and on six-game win streak.
The 'Bows were spurred by the return of senior captains Zane Johnson and Jeremiah Ostrowski both of whom sat out of UH's tough 74-70 loss to Louisiana Tech on Thursday. Both came up big in their return versus the Aggies. Johnson poured in a season-high 29 points, including seven three-pointers, while Ostrowski finished with nine points, eight assists and four steals.
Joston Thomas added 17 points, nine rebounds and a career-high six assists for UH. Meanwhile, Vander Joaquim sat out much of the first half, but still finished with his sixth double-double of the season (11 points, 10 rebounds). Sophomore post Davis Rozitis ably filled in for Joaquim, logging nine points, five rebounds and three blocks in just 14 first-half minutes.
After trailing early on, UH used a 16-1 run midway through the first half—holding the Aggies without a field for seven minutes—to stake a double-digit lead. It was a lead they would not relinquish. Behind Johnson's 18 first-half points, the Rainbow Warriors took a 44-34 lead into the locker room.
New Mexico State cut the lead to 48-42, early in the second half but UH used another huge run to create distance. A 21-8 surge put the Rainbow Warriors up by 19 points, 69-50, with just under 12 minutes left. UH continued to hold a double-digit lead for much of the remainder of the game, however the Aggies put together a furious rally, closing within four points in the final minute. But it was too little to late for NMSU as the 'Bows sealed the game on the free throw line where they nailed 24-of-30 attempts.
Hawai'i now heads to the road for a pair of games beginning with a contest at Utah State on Thursday, Jan. 26. Tipoff is set for 7:00 p.m. MT (4:00 p.m. HT).