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Apache comeback falls short as champions Evessa assert authority

by Ed Odeven

Despite a spirited comeback, the Tokyo Apache came up short in the fourth quarter against the Osaka Evessa on Wednesday night at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, losing 78-69 in a game that featured as much verve as flash and as many miscues as brilliant moves.

The three-time defending bj-league champions made six free throws in the final 18.8 seconds to seal the win.

It was the first meeting between the two teams since last season’s title game in May, when the Evessa defeated the Apache 66-56 to win their third straight title.

Lynn Washington scored a team-best 23 points for Osaka, which improved to 7-4. Nick DeWitz added 19 points, followed by Nile Murry’s 18 and Kazuya Hatano’s 10.

The Evessa held a 57-45 rebounding edge on the night, and in doing so earned their first three-game winning streak of the young season.

Sloppy ball movement hurt both teams’ offensive rhythm. Tokyo turned it over 19 times, while Osaka made 18 turnovers.

“I’m relieved we won,” Evessa coach Kensaku Tennichi said. “As a team, our defense is getting better. Like today, if you make turnovers, the game gets tight. The players understand that. For tomorrow, we’d like to emphasize that to our players.”

After the game, Tokyo coach Joe Bryant was already ready to focus on the Thursday rematch.

“I’m looking forward to how we come back tomorrow night and try hard to get the win,” he said.

“We were right in the game. We had our chances to win the game or tie the game,” Bryant added.

“But we made a couple of mistakes offensively (in that critical stretch late in the game).”

Tokyo (5-4) faced a 64-57 deficit early in the fourth after Murry scored the quarter’s first points on a textbook drive through traffic.

Masashi Joho drained a fallaway 3-pointer to pull Tokyo within 64-60. Backcourt mate Cohey Aoki nailed a long jumper from the left wing, cutting it to 66-64. It was the first time since the opening quarter the score was this close.

The Evessa didn’t panic, though. They scored the next six points to give themselves some breathing room and held off the Apache down the stretch.

“It was a playoff atmosphere — and I think it was fun,” Bryant said.

Bryant said the Apache didn’t get their fair share of calls from the referees, pointing to the free-throw disparity between the teams. Tokyo took 13 free-throw attempts; Osaka had 22.

Humphrey led Tokyo with 32 points. Tizzo Johnson added 12.

Fueled by points off turnovers and aggressive play on the offensive end, Tokyo jumped out to an early 8-2 lead.

But the Evessa quickly answered with a short run to seize control of the game. DeWitz scored an off-balance leaner and drew the foul at the 5:18 mark. He drained the free-throw to cut it to 10-9. Seconds later, Humphrey soared through the lane and slammed home an offensive putback to delight the rowdy crowd and give Tokyo a 12-9 edge.

Murry, showcasing the shooter’s hot hand early, nailed a stop-and-pop jumper just before the first quarter ended, extending the out-of-towners’ lead to 25-16.

Tokyo’s deficit grew, however, to 46-32 by intermission. Firing blanks from 3-point range (0-for-5) didn’t help the Apache’s cause in the opening half, neither did too many missed layups and shots from close range, which contributed to a 13-for-32 effort from inside the 3-point arc.

The Apache trailed 46-32 entering the second half.

Humphrey scored the first points of the half on a layup. On the other end of the floor, center Nick Davis, who had 17 rebounds, blocked back-to-back Evessa shots. Then it was Humphrey’s turn to swat away a shot, a stirring defensive sequence at a time when Tokyo looked to regain momentum.

With a pretty finger-roll shot and a jam, DeWitz staked the Evessa to a 61-50 lead, but a Humphrey 3-pointer and Johnson putback brought the Apache within 61-55 in the feverish third.

Seconds later, Humphrey found a hole in the defense, using a double-clutch move to give him space for a layup and as he turned his head up court the numbers “61-57″ were staring at him on the scoreboard.

DeWitz nailed the second of two free throws with 15.7 seconds left on the third-quarter game clock, and Tokyo then set up a final shot. Humphrey shot an air ball, however, and the three-time champs clung to a five-point advantage entering the final quarter.

Humphrey had 29 of Tokyo’s 57 points through three quarters.

Bryant said the Apache need to have better bench production in the rematch. The team had just eight points from the bench players, including Aoki’s six on the night.