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89ers keep it simple in Broncos victory

by Ed Odeven

KASUKABE, Saitama Pref. — The Sendai 89ers started strong and closed out Saturday’s 86-74 victory over the Saitama Broncos with a stick-to-the-fundamentals approach.

They made their free throws (12 of 14) in the final period, capitalizing on what the hosts gave them.

And they got a big game from Ryan Blackwell — 31 points to be exact on 10-for-17 shooting. He also had 13 rebounds, six assists and a steal for good measure in this bj-league contest before a crowd of 2,102 at Kasukabe Sogo Taikukan gymnasium.

After being sidelined for last weekend’s games, Blackwell made a headline-grabbing return to Sendai’s lineup. He had his third 30-plus points scoring game of the season and his fifth double-double of the season.

“We didn’t turn the ball over (a lot),” Sendai’s Kenichi Takahashi said through an interpreter, highlighting one of the team’s keys to victory.

Sendai had 11 turnovers in the fast-paced contest.

“Also, Saitama’s Japanese guys are good shooters,” and Sendai limited their long-range productivity, he added. “And our Japanese players, if they are not hurt, can be good 3-point shooters.”

Saitama (4-9) was held to 5-for-21 shooting from 3-point range. Sendai was 10-for-25, including Takahashi’s 3-for-7 effort.

Sendai led 61-53 after three quarters.

Early in the fourth, Marcus Toney-El pulled the Broncos within 63-57 on a 3-pointer.

Then Sendai used a 10-4 spurt to spoil the home team’s comeback hopes.

It started with a Mamadou Diouf foul shot. It ended with his slick spin move in the paint, which led to his easy deuce and a 73-61 lead with 4:46 to play. In between, Blackwell knocked down a 3 that flew through the net with a resounding swish.

In the final stanza, Blackwell, who turned 30 on Dec. 8, penned these impromptu lyrics (without anyone seeing him doing so):

I’m tall. Give me the ball. And I swear that I’ll make good things happen, y’all.

He did. The 200-cm forward hit all the high notes in the process, making all eight of his fourth-quarter shots — six free throws and both field goals, including one from downtown.

Diouf said his team “stayed aggressive” in the fourth quarter and that led to a satisfying win.

“We moved the ball and stretched the defense,” he added, praising the team’s unselfish ball movement.

Michael Chappell poured in 21 points for Sendai, which improved to 7-6 and 6-1 on the road.

The 89ers’ Hikaru Kusaka played a smart, steady game at the point, scoring eight points, grabbing eight boards, dishing out six assists and committing just one turnover.

There was a visible comfort level for Kusaka from the get-go.

“We came out here feeling like we were going to start out (well),” Kusaka admitted.

“This win,” he said, “is good momentum for us.”

Elsewhere, center Nick Davis had 30 points and 15 rebounds as the Albirex BB defeated the Toyama Grouses 82-78 in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Pref. In Tokyo, seven players had double-digit scoring performances as the Takamatsu Five Arrows routed the host Apache 108-89. In Beppu, Oita Pref, Yukinori Suzuki sank a critical two-point shot with just two seconds left in overtime as the HeatDevils downed the Osaka Evessa 101-95.