Monday night couldn’t have started much worse for Samuta Avea.
Entering the game off the bench with something to prove against an athletic Adams State squad, it was obvious to anyone watching that Avea was looking to be the aggressor.
His aggression got the best of him on his first jump-shot of the game: An air ball that sucked the air of the Stan Sheriff Center.
“Woof!” exclaimed a smiling Avea postgame when discussing his air ball after the Warriors held off the Grizzlies 87-77 to improve their record to 4-1.
Avea was smiling because he wasn’t disheartened by result of his shot. He knew it was the right shot to take in the system his offense was running, and his head coach Eran Ganot applauded the effort.
Shaking off those cobwebs of playing in limited minutes to start the season, Avea began to play loose and with confidence, flashing the potential fans and scouts saw during his days playing at Kahuku.
The former Red Raider came off the bench for the Warriors against Adams State and tallied 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting in a season high 17 minutes. He also recorded five rebounds, two of which came on the offensive glass.
“It was fun,” Avea said without getting carried away by his first big collegiate performance. “It was a good feeling.”
Whether it was strategy or opportunity, Avea played most of his minutes at the power forward position in a small-ball lineup for the Warriors. Avea’s athleticism allowed him to pull his defender away from the basket and drive on him, either getting to the foul line or scoring a layup.
“I was playing more of the four, and their four-man was kinda more more taller and lankier, so it was easier for me to take him off the dribble and stuff,” he said.
Perhaps lost in Avea’s “breakout” performance was another freshman for Hawaii, who performed equally well in important minutes for his team when Ganot needed a spark off the bench.
Brandon Thomas, the younger brother of Hawaii’s senior forward Mike Thomas, scored 13 points as well, shooting an impressive 5-of-6 from the field and 2-of-3 from three-point territory.
Most of Thomas’ points came in transition or from spotting up from the corner. That ability to spread the floor in physical games like Monday night will be crucial for Ganot to have in his arsenal.
“If it wasn’t for the performances of the two young guys off the bench, who earned their time, we wouldn’t have come out victorious,” Ganot said. “Samuta and Brandon were huge in this game.”
Ganot is right - if it wasn’t for Avea and Thomas, the Warriors wouldn’t have beaten Adams State.
Jack Purchase’s shooting woes continued on Monday, scoring zero points on 0-of-4 shooting. Mike Thomas scored just two points in 10 minutes of play, hampered by a lingering wrist injury.
“Sometimes, there’s some things that guys gotta fight through with themselves and what not. The balance, like I said earlier, as a coach is letting guys work through things and making the hard decision that maybe it’s not their night and go with another guy,” Ganot said. “There’s a lot of guys who did some good things, and there’s work we have to do as a team.”
Avea and Thomas have established their roles in Ganot’s system fairly quickly in the season due to the hard work both players have put into practice.
“Samuta will hear it, and has. And Brandon will hear it,” Ganot said. “(When) they’re not performing in practice, they weren’t playing as much, at least Samuta. He wants to be out there.”
Ganot likened Avea and Thomas’ situation to that of Sheriff Drammeh when he was a freshman.
There was an established guard rotation ahead of Drammeh for the Warriors a couple of years ago, but he was still able to garner some minutes because of his effort on both ends of the floor not just in games, but in the practice gym as well.
“Those are two great attitudes, really coachable kids and workers who want it,” Ganot said of Avea and Thomas. “So, to their credit, they kept working - they started to practice better. You’ll see consistently with our program, they’ll get in the game for those reasons.”
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