Seconds before overtime started on Sunday afternoon at Ariake Colosseum, Tokyo Apache coach Joe Bryant told his players the good news: The Takamatsu Five Arrows had just beaten the Niigata Albirex BB 90-85.
The he reminded them of the task at hand: Win this game and you’ll host a postseason contest next weekend.
The Apache did it the hard way.
John “Helicopter” Humphrey made an off-balance floater from the right baseline with 3.5 seconds remaining, lifting his team to an 88-87 OT triumph over the resilient Oita HeatDevils.
Now the wild-card round is set.
Tokyo (27-17) will play host to Niigata (26-18) on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Yoyogi Gym, and Takamatsu (30-14) and the first-year expansion Rizing Fukuoka (20-24) will meet at 2 p.m. in Shikoku in the other contest.
The winners advance to the playoff semifinals, which will be held May 3 at Ariake Colosseum.
Oita (19-25) missed the playoffs by one game despite a 27-point effort from Andy Ellis.
“I’m just real excited, especially after what we went through last year,” a joyful Bryant said, referring to the Apache’s league-worst 12-28 record. We had so many injuries . . .”
Tokyo trailed 49-39 at halftime and reacted slowly to Oita’s offensive game plan.
“At halftime, I was very upset because I don’t think we played with defensive intensity,” Bryant said later.
Humphrey put 25 points on the board on 10-of-18 shooting, Dameion Baker added 20, Masashi Joho 12 and Cohey Aoki provided a jolt of intensity and productivity off the bench with eight.
Nick Davis, Tokyo’s defensive mainstay in the middle, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked five shots and made four assists.
At courtside at Ariake on Sunday, details of the Five Arrows-Albirex game were closely monitored by Apache officials on the Internet.
In a wild second half, the Five Arrows outscored the Albirex 30-18 in the third quarter and held on for dear life in the fourth when the proud hosts put up 29 points and held Takamatsu to 16.
The Five Arrows, last year’s runnerup in the title game, had a dismal showing at the foul line (16-for-30), but George Leach (22 points), Yu Okada (19) and Hiroyuki Kikuchi (11) provided enough offense to make up for the missed free throws.
Matt Garrison led the Albirex with 27 points, including a 6-for-8 effort from 3-point range.
Also Sunday, the Osaka Evessa completed a series-ending sweep over the host Sendai 89ers, picking up a 105-89 win that gave the two-time defending league champions a 31-13 record and the Western Conference crown.
The Evessa, who had four players score 20 or more points, earned a bye until the playoff semifinals.
So did the 89ers, who won the Eastern Conference title with a 29-13 record.
The Saitama Broncos, meanwhile, lost 81-78 to the visiting Toyama Grouses.
Both teams didn’t qualify for postseason play. Saitama went 21-23 under first-year coach David Benoit. Toyama lost 37 of 44 games.
LEAGUE LEADERS: Ellis earned this season’s prestigious scoring title, finishing with 25.1 points per game. The former Texas Tech University player was second in the league in 2006-07, posting the same average.
Humphrey, the two-time scoring champ, didn’t finish in the top three this season. The Apache now have a more balanced attack and he isn’t expected to carry the scoring load, but he led Tokyo with 19.9 ppg.
Fukuoka forward Joshua Peppers placed No. 2 in scoring (22.2) and Takamatsu power forward Reggie Warren was third (21.5).
Ryukyu Golden Kings point guard Naoto Takushi had a league-best 5.8 assists per game.
Saitama Broncos forward Gordon James repeated as the king of the boards, capturing the title for the second straight season. He pulled down a league-high 14.4 rebounds per game.