On a night when the OIA East race took a new turn, Kahuku came through with defense again.

The Red Raiders, ranked eighth in the Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10, went on a 9-0 run to start the second half, turning a three-point game into a 64-44 runaway win over Kaimuki on Friday night.

A polite, subdued gathering of about 200 fans watched at the Bulldogs’ gym.

Kache Kaio led the way with 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Tiki Akina-Watson sparked the third-quarter run with seven points and a steal. Kahuku’s balanced attack included nine points each by Kahler Vendiola and Jens Evans, seven points from Ronin Naihe and six by Rivers Evans.

“We had a talk during halftime that we needed to pick the energy up because it was dead in the first half. Third quarter we came back with the energy and that got us our lead,” Akina-Watson said. “Coach always tells me before the game, defense before offense, and defense leads to offense. He told me to eat my defender up, so I went out and ate him up.”

Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana saw his team shoot 9-for-29 from the field in the first half, committing just three turnovers. He wanted a little more fire.

“We fell asleep, kind of stagnant. Usually third quarters, we do well. We came out and we played hard,” Akana said. “Energy, tough defense and that’s going to lend itself to offense.”

Kahuku’s tall, long and rangy defenders caused problems for Kaimuki’s slashers.

“Defense and even being patient with the ball. I thought we were kind of forcing shots early on,” Akana said. “In the second half we did a much better job.”

With a 61-45 loss by No. 2-ranked Kailua at Kalaheo on Friday, more weight has been added to the Kahuku-Kailua game next Friday. Kahuku is 8-0 in league play (17-3 overall), while Kalaheo (7-1) can get the inside track to one of the East’s two first-round byes if Kahuku beats Kailua (7-1).

“Nothing is different. We’re just going to keep working hard in practice,” Vendiola said.

Harmon Sio had nine points and six rebounds, and Daysen Lupica finished with nine points for the Bulldogs.

Kaimuki, a title contender in Division II, kept it close in the first half with rugged defense in the paint from Iosefa Letuli and Harmon Sio. Kahuku jumped to a 12-2 lead after a slam dunk on a fast break by Rivers Evans.

Kaimuki chipped away and got within 18-14 on a scoop shot by Regan Fritz-Betiru with 3:53 left in the second quarter.

A corner 3 by Sio on a feed from Lupica cut Kahuku’s lead to 26-23 going into the half.

“Defensively, we played well. Offensively, we just couldn’t get started because Kahuku’s so tall and long,” Kaimuki coach Greydon Espinda said. “Their length is incredible. They were contesting our shots, and that’s a tribute to Kahuku’s defense. If they didn’t block the shot, they altered the shot or we would take shots we normally wouldn’t take.”

Akina-Watson’s quickness was a key to Kahuku’s elevated defensive pressure after intermission. Vendiola scored off a steal, Jens Evans hit a layup and Akina-Watson stroked a 12-foot jumper on a pass from Jens Evans. After Jens Evans scored in transition off Kaimuki’s fourth turnover of the third quarter, Kahuku had a 32-20 cushion.

“We were still only down by 12. We still had a chance. Our goal was to stay close, and they made a run. We had to try and press. Whether we lose by 12 or by 30, we still lose. We tried to see if we could rattle them, but they’re a good passing team and the attack the basket well,” Espinda said. “We did a good job on Kache, but it was the other guys who stepped up and made shots — the second-chance points off rebounds.”

The visitors simply extended the lead from that point. Kaimuki had 10 turnovers in the second half and 18 for the game, clearly missing senior point guard Jeremiah White, who played in the Polynesian Bowl all-star football game.

“He’s the point guard. He runs it and he sets everybody up. A guard like that who gets in the paint and sets up shots for the shooters — and they have a lot of shooters — he does a very good job with that,” Akana said.

Without White, Lupica shot 2-for-17 from the field and sophomore gunner ManDuy Pham shot 3-for-15.

“No excuses. We prepared a whole week without Jeremiah,” Espinda said.

The Polynesian Bowl ended during the basketball game.

“He was going to try and make it back. I said, yeah, if you can, but don’t worry about it,” Espinda said. “It’s a tribute to his success in football. He had all our blessings. Go have fun, enjoy. We were close until that final stretch of the fourth quarter when they made that run.”

Kaimuki (11-11, 5-3) will play at Kailua next Wednesday.

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