Sensley's late 3-pointer lifts UH over San Jose State, 61-60
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
SAN JOSE, Calif. — One shot was all it took to transform the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team from road worriers to road warriors.
And what a shot it was.
Julian Sensley's 3-pointer from 23 feet with 2.2 seconds remaining lifted the Rainbow Warriors to an improbable 61-60 victory over San Jose State yesterday.
"The follow-through felt good," Sensley said. "I just squared up and was able to knock the shot down."
The game-winning shot capped another Hawai'i rally from a double-digit deficit, and kept the 'Bows near the top of the Western Athletic Conference.
A crowd of 1,433 at The Event Center — including about 400 Hawai'i fans — watched Hawai'i sweep a road trip for the first time this season. The 'Bows, who also won at Idaho Wednesday, improved to 16-9 overall and 9-5 in the WAC. Hawai'i is tied for third in the WAC with two home games remaining.
The victory was improbable because of the circumstances of the game, and not because of the teams' records. San Jose State dropped to 6-22 overall and 2-12 in the conference.
"I'll say this, (San Jose State) deserved to win this ball game," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "But I'm not going to give it to them, by any means. I'll take the win, trust me."
Hawai'i's only lead came on Sensley's shot.
"We did everything just right and Julian Sensley made a (23)-foot shot, basically fading away from the basket," San Jose State head coach George Nessman said. "I don't know what to say. It was a great shot by a big-time player."
But until the closing seconds, the 'Bows were not having a great game.
Ahmet Gueye led Hawai'i with 19 points and eight rebounds, although he committed four turnovers and missed two close-range shots in the closing minutes that could have tied the game.
"I thank Julian Sensley for making the last shot," said Gueye, who shot 8 of 15 from the field.
Matt Lojeski added 14 points, including four 3-pointers, and four blocked shots. Sensley contributed 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists, although he went 5 of 13 from the field.
"We just had to grind it out and then we got a big shot at the end," Lojeski said. "All that matters is we won."
Hawai'i shot 43.6 percent from the field and was out-rebounded by the shorter Spartans, 36-30.
"We started getting frustrated," Gueye said. "We kind of had the thought that we would lose this game a little bit, but the fact that we're always together helps us a lot. All the way to the end, we were telling each other to stick together."
The 'Bows have now won six of their last seven games, and the last four victories have featured comebacks from double-digit deficits.
San Jose State's biggest lead was 11 (20-9) midway through the first half, and it eventually took a 33-28 lead at intermission.
"They slowed our game down and we weren't able to transition like we wanted to," Sensley said. "And we weren't hitting shots we needed to hit."
San Jose State maintained the lead for most of the second half, but could never pull away.
"I've been coaching a long time and I really don't remember one where we trailed the whole time," Wallace said. "But I was pleased with my team for staying focused the whole time. We just stayed there and stayed there."
The 'Bows finally caught the Spartans when Chris Botez scored on a slam dunk to tie the score at 58 with 52.5 seconds remaining.
But the Spartans responded on their ensuing possession with a short jump shot by Alex Elam to regain the lead with 36.5 seconds remaining.
Then came the improbable.
First, Sensley turned the ball over before Hawai'i could even attempt a shot.
Then, San Jose State's Carlton Spencer missed the front end of a one-and-one with 14.8 seconds left.
"I said 'hey, just miss one for me. Just one,' " Lojeski said he told Spencer. "He didn't say anything back, but he missed it."
Nessman said: "He missed the free throw, which was unfortunate for us. Obviously, if he makes those two, the game is over."
Instead, Botez grabbed the rebound off Spencer's miss and the 'Bows called a timeout to set up Sensley's winning shot.
"That's a hard shot to make," Nessman said. "You can win a lot of games in H-O-R-S-E if you can make that shot consistently."
Wallace countered: "It's not a surprise that he hit that shot because he's been working hard before practice and after practice on that shot."
Spencer's desperation shot from half-court at the buzzer bounced off the side of the rim, prompting a relatively-subdued celebration from the Hawai'i bench.
"We were more relieved because we weren't playing Rainbow basketball," Gueye said.
Spencer and Elam led the Spartans with 15 points each. It was the seventh time this season that San Jose State lost a game in the closing seconds.
Lojeski said: "We expected to win this game, so you could say it was a relief at the end. Obviously, we would have liked to win it a little easier than that."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com.