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St. Preux sinks clutch free throws to lead 89ers past Broncos

by Ed Odeven

TOKOROZAWA, Saitama Pref. — Bobby St. Preux sank six free throws in the final minute to lead the Sendai 89ers to a 79-76 victory over the Saitama Broncos on Sunday afternoon.

On all three of those trips to the foul line, St. Preux swished the front end of a one-and-one. With 24.3 seconds remaining, his final foul shot of the game gave the 89ers a 79-73 advantage.

Saitama’s Kazuhiro Shoji then drew a foul while attempting a 3-point shot. He hit all three of his shots to pull the Broncos within three with 10.9 ticks remaining on the game clock.

Saitama was unable to force overtime as seconds later Taishiro Shimizu’s 3-point attempt was off the mark and Sendai held on for the victory.

The Broncos recorded a series split and find themselves at 14-14. The weekend’s two games in Tokorozawa were decided by a grand total of eight points.

St. Preux, however, thrives on pressure-packed contests.

“It was a tough game and you can’t really worry about doing turnovers or missing a shot” the 27-year-old forward said. “You’ve just got to go out and play, and usually the last two minutes will decide the game anyway so you might as well play free.

“I just decided to go aggressive and try to get the win,” said St. Preux, who had 16 fourth-quarter points.

And what was he thinking with the game on the line as he stepped to the free-throw line?

“I just take a few deep breaths and then visualize like I’m at practice,” St. Preux said of his mind-set at the line. “I try not to put pressure on myself. I tell myself that the first one is the most important and just relax . . . and not think about missing.”

St. Preux finished with a game-high 28 points, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range. He also grabbed 11 rebounds for the victorious 89ers, who improved to 20-8, the best record in the bj-league’s Eastern Conference.

This wasn’t the first game in which the native of Haiti earned double-digit shots from the foul line. He was a perfect 10-for-10 on Nov. 10 and 10-for-11 on Dec. 24 and Feb. 3.

On the season, St. Preux is an 82.2 percent free-throw shooter.

St. Preux scored a game-best 30 points in the 89ers’ 90-85 loss on Saturday.

“Yesterday I hit a lot of 3s, so today I knew they were going to be pressure me a little bit, so I was looking to drive more,” said St. Preux, sizing up Saitama’s defensive strategy. “I got more aggressive and drove more and went after the offensive rebounds a little bit.”

Sendai coach Honoo Hamaguchi was pleased his team bounced back with a series-closing road win on Sunday.

“I told the players we want to be mentally tough. That is the most important thing,” Hamaguchi said.

Trailing 35-27 at halftime, Saitama scored 31 third-quarter points. Mamadou Diouf’s turnaround jumper capped a 19-3 Broncos run and gave them a 58-53 lead with 55 second left in the period. But Sendai mounted a strong comeback the rest of the way.

And the fourth quarter belonged to St. Preux.

Shoji was Saitama’s top scorer with 20 points, James Davis chipped in with 18 and Diouf had 15.

“I’m proud of my guys,” Saitama coach David Benoit said. “They played hard and fought back against a tough team.”

Elsewhere Sunday, Andy Ellis scored 35 points to lead the host Oita HeatDevils to a 103-88 victory over the Tokyo Apache, earning a two-game split in the process.

Justin Allen had 26 points, Jason Braxton poured in 21 and Tsubasa Yonamine had 10 and dished out 12 assists as the HeatDevils improved to 12-16.

Oita outscored Tokyo 25-13 in the third quarter to take control of the game.

Tokyo, which fell to 15-13, had four players score in double figures: Cohey Aoki (23), John Humphrey (12) and Masashi Joho and Dameion Baker (10 apiece). A day after his monster 22-point, 21 rebound effort, Apache center Nick Davis had four points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

The Takamatsu Five Arrows, meanwhile, improved to 19-9 with a 106-86 triumph over the visiting Ryukyu Golden Kings.

Reggie Warren was the Five Arrows’ top scorer with 23 points. He pulled 12 boards to pick up his customary double-double. Sharpshooter Yu Okada finished with 20 points and backcourt mate Rasheed Sparks scored 18 for Takamatsu, which travels to Tokyo next weekend for a pair of games against the Apache at Ariake Colosseum.