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89ers ride free throws in rout

by Ed Odeven

If he had occupied the tiny speck of real estate known as the free-throw line any longer, the authorities would’ve demanded that Mamadou Diouf start paying rent, and rightfully so.

Mamadou Diouf WIDTH="250" HEIGHT="290"/>Sendai 89ers forward Mamadou Diouf, who scored a game-high 33 points, drives to the hoop against the Tokyo Apache on Sunday at Ariake Colosseum.
KAZ NAGATSUKA PHOTO

He was more than an occasional visitor to the charity stripe on Sunday afternoon. It was his home away from home.

The Sendai 89ers forward scored 15 fourth-quarter points, including 9 of 10 from the free-throw line, in his team’s 100-83 victory over the Tokyo Apache before 2,256. He finished with 33 points as the 89ers rebounded from a 109-95 drubbing on Saturday in the series opener.

Diouf had an all-around sensational outing, making 11 of 19 shots from the field and pulling down 12 rebounds. He also had three assists, three steals and two blocks.

And he got plenty of help from his friends, too. Ryan Blackwell chipped in 23 points, Michael Chappell added 22 and Hikaru Kusaka had nine for the out-of-towners.

“For this team, we have Ryan (Blackwell) and we have Mike (Michael Chappell) and they are good players, they are also leaders,” Diouf said, deflecting some of the credit to his talented teammates. “I view myself as stepping in and taking charge and repeat those things so that everybody can learn it.

“It’s not really my role, but it’s natural for me to step up for us to win.”

89ers coach Honoo Hamaguchi, who served a one-game suspension on Saturday for criticizing the officiating last week and had to monitor Saturday’s game via the Internet at the team’s hotel, said Diouf did a stellar job in leading his team to victory.

“For the 89ers’ offense, we don’t have a first-option guy,” the coach said. “We always try to have everybody have the same opportunity, and in the fourth quarter it just so happened that he had more and more of an opportunity to score.”

Hamaguchi added: “He’s an aggressive guy, a really, really aggressive player.”

Sendai assistant coach Takeo Mabashi was in charge for Saturday’s game. A day later, Mabashi and Hamaguchi had plenty of positives to talk about on the bus ride back to Miyagi Prefecture.

Sendai (14-14) put this game out of reach by outscoring Tokyo 27-8 when the game clock was stopped. The 89ers attempted 31 free throws to Tokyo’s 13.

Tokyo was whistled for 29 fouls compared to Sendai’s 17.

These facts disgusted Tokyo Apache coach Joe Bryant, whose team dropped to 11-17.

Bryant said: “There’s no way an official can explain or justify that discrepancy in free throws. It’s just impossible. There’s nothing they can say to me or my team to justify that discrepancy.”

Chappell offered his own perspective on the league’s officiating.

“It’s been inconsistent at times. I will say that,” Chappell admitted, “and not necessarily inconsistently bad, but generally you can get a feel for how the officials are going to call the game or whether they are going to call it close. . . . I think the officials here do the best they can do, but I think players and coaches, all we are really searching for is consistency.”

Sendai put together one of its top across-the-board passing games of the season, dishing out 25 assists. Blackwell’s 11 led the team, and four teammates had two or more, including Kusage’s four. Kusage also had five steals.

The 89ers pulled away in the fourth. They led 76-71 after Tokyo’s Michael Jackson made a putback, but Diouf took charge seconds later. He made the first of two free throws and made up for his missed second shot after Blackwell secured the board and Diouf followed with a layup. He increased the lead to 81-71 seconds later, scoring on a layup at the 6:47 mark after a well-timed pump fake.

Jackson (14 points) and John Humphrey (21) both fouled out in the fourth quarter and Tokyo missed their athleticism in the final minutes, but Koehi Aoki (19 points) and Dameion Baker (17) put up big offensive numbers in their absence.

Earlier in the fast-paced game, Baker banged in a buzzer-beating 3 to give the Apache a 25-24 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Sendai ended the opening half with a 53-45 advantage.

Both teams had incredible shooting efforts from inside the arc in the opening half. Sendai converted 17 of 21 attempts (81 percent) and Tokyo was 15-for-24.

This productivity carried over into the second half, but Sendai’s free-throw line output proved to be the difference.

“Look at the two-pointers. We had 30-for-56 and they were 29-for-49,” Bryant said. “. . . This had the making of being a classic game, if the officials don’t take things personal on one side of the table.”